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The Washington Post corrected this photo slideshow's headline and subheadline after about 1,500 complaints. (Credit: Washington Post, screenshot)

The Washington Post corrected a photo gallery’s headline and sub-headline after the newspaper’s public editor received at least 1,500 complaints, Post public editor Patrick Pexton reported in a Dec. 9 column.  Pexton explained that he received “about 1,500 e-mails” from readers complaining about a headline for the Post’s slideshow on Iran’s nuclear research facilities.

The headline and sub-headline originally read [emphasis ours]:  “Iran’s quest to possess nuclear weapons: Intelligence shows that Iran received foreign assistance to overcome key hurdles in acquiring a nuclear weapon, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.”

The headline and sub-headline have been changed to read [emphasis ours]:  “Iran’s quest to possess nuclear technology: Intelligence shows that Iran received foreign assistance to overcome key hurdles in acquiring technology that could lead to a nuclear weapon, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.”

The complaints were triggered by the nonprofit group Just Foreign Policy, which created a form of a modernized letter-writing campaign, Pexton explained. As Pexton noted, sites like the Daily Kos also “picked [the group’s complaint] up.”

According to Just Foreign Policy’s website, it is “an independent and non-partisan membership organization dedicated to reforming U.S. foreign policy by mobilizing and organizing the broad majority of Americans who want a foreign policy based on diplomacy, law and cooperation.”

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As Pexton explained, the group complained that the headline and sub-headline weren’t accurate.  He noted that the Nov. 6 and Nov. 8 stories that the Post linked to from the gallery proved the headline and sub-headline’s inaccuracy by indicating that a U.N. agency report “does not say Iran has a bomb, nor does it say it is building one, only that its multiyear effort pursuing nuclear technology is sophisticated and broad enough that it could be consistent with building a bomb.”

Pexton concurred with Just Foreign Policy’s concerns,  said he wasn’t able to find out “where in the process these headlines went wrong,” but noted that “when I raised the issue it was quickly fixed.”  The Washington Post added an editor’s note to the slideshow that reads:  “An earlier headline on this photo gallery failed to reflect debate over whether Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon”

Since Pexton had the Post’s headline changed, Just Foreign Policy has made its online campaign for a correction “no longer active,” according to its website.  In a Dec. 6 update on its site, the group writes: “Victory! The Washington Post has responded to our campaign by correcting the offending headline. Thank you to everyone who emailed! For a full update, with screenshot comparison, visit our blog.”  In that separate post (see here) Just Foreign Policy thanks Pexton “for looking into this matter and taking the appropriate action.”

iMediaEthics wrote to Just Foreign Policy to ask if it had any further comment about the issue and if it was satisfied with the Post’s response.  Robert Naiman told iMediaEthics by e-mail that “We are completely satisfied with the correction and with Mr. Pexton’s column.  We and others will continue to monitor the news section of the Post and other newspapers to ensure that they do not mislead the public about what is known about Iran’s nuclear program – as Mr. Pexton acknowledged the Post‘s previous headline did – and so that they do not, as Mr. Pexton wrote, ‘play into the hands of those who are seeking further confrontation with Iran.'””

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1500 Complaints over Washington Post headline? WaPo Corrects after E-mail Campaign

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