Editors at CNN.com were lightning quick to correct the errors in two 2004 Phil Hirschkorn articles, “9/11 families to hear more calls from flights,” and “Families hear heroism on 9/11 calls from planes,” and the unattributed article published later that year with no byline, “Video shows 9/11 hijackers at airport.”
Hirschkorn called our office and spoke to director Rhonda R. Shearer an hour after we e-mailed him regarding his mistake. However, Hirschkorn’s initial response was anger and hurt feelings because he had not been given a chance to respond or correct before my report was published on www.imediaethics.org. Shearer explained that our reports are public and the only response that is required by CNN is to make the necessary corrections.
My report was about the facts and the errors themselves. It seemed silly ask Hirschkorn, “Uh… how do you feel about being wrong?” Indeed, Hirschkorn was so upset that he threatened to have CNN’s legal department call us. A CNN attorney named — believe it or not — David Vigilante called to take charge of the situation. Both Vigilante and Hirschkorn felt we were unethical for not allowing them to respond before we published our report about the factual errors. They wanted the opportunity to correct instead of having the errors be made public.
After all was said and done, the attorney Vigilante turned out to be a nice guy who really cared about accuracy (and this can be said of Hirschkorn, too). No need to quibble, since the corrections were so quickly and thoroughly done. (The manner in which the corrections were made follows The Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics to the nth degree.)
They even added a “Correction” box explaining that the correction had been made! Our experience at www.imediaethics.org is that even when corrections are made by the media, they are never transparent. For example, see the “Iranian woman gives birth to a frog” case study below. After our report regarding their errors, BBC yanked the article from their servers rather than admit their mistakes. BBC’s cowardice left the blogosphere with links and commentary discussing the frog baby report without evidence that the BBC article (with its embarrassing errors) had ever existed.
We commend CNN and Hirschkorn for their exemplary demonstration of journalistic ethics.
Post script: I am emailing CNN’s correction to the sites I’ve identified that propagated CNN’s original error.