The problem with NPR (and journalism in general)

NPR ran a “correction” of a story this morning. They said, “In a recent story about Judge Alito’s failure to recuse himself from a case involving Vanguard, we mistakenly reported that he owned extraordinary amounts of Vanguard stock. We should have said he owned Vanguard mutual funds.”

Now, this might seem like an error of semantics, but it’s really a much larger mistake. In fact, this mistake is so huge, and so central to the entire point of the story, that it renders the story pointless. Owning Vanguard stock makes you an owner of Vanguard; the mutual funds sold by Vanguard provide you ownership in other companies. The central premise of the story could have been: “Judge Alito failed to recuse himself from a case involving Vanguard when it was clearly shown he owned extraordinary amounts of stocks of other publicly traded companies.”

See the point? If that’s the premise, then there is no story. And this is not a difficult thing to understand, but the reporter who wrote the story, the fact-checker that is supposed to vet these things, the editor who approved running it, the engineer who helped record it… all of these people completely missed this crucial detail. So, while the original story was almost 7 minutes long, the retraction of this one detail took about 12 seconds.

Oh, and did I mention that all of this was brought up during Senate questioning by Sen. Kennedy? Seems like he has enough money in the coffers to understand the difference…

[Listen to the original NPR story]