Rushing to Depict a Revolutionary in 1960s Vermont

Photo by  US Congress  via  Wikipedia Commons . Some rights reserved.

Photo by US Congress via Wikipedia Commons. Some rights reserved.

The statewide news organization, VTDigger.org, published a piece recently on presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, and his early life in Vermont. In doing so, writer Jess Wisloski (Martin), cited reports from the New York Times, Mother Jones, and the National Journal that incorrectly reported facts of his early days in the Green Mountain State as a 20-something in the late 1960s.

The New York Times reported that Sanders moved to Burlington, Vermont in the late 1960s. Mother Jones cites that he moved to Middlesex, Vermont in the late 1960s. The National Journal stated that he moved to New York City directly following his college graduation.

The fact is he moved to Middlesex, Vermont in 1964.

Why would reputable news organizations, with reputations for holding a high standard of good journalism, get a simple fact wrong?

I read an interesting quote in Gene Foreman’s “The Ethical Journalist” by Associated Press senior managing editor, Michael Oreskes, “some online sites skimp on verification in order to be first to report a news development.”

Could these three reputable news organizations be so desperate to be among the first to report on Bernie Sanders that they fail to get simple facts correct?

It a small mistake, yes, but a fact nonetheless. Some could argue it insignificant.

That’s what Deborah Messing, Sanders’ first wife, believed when she’s read reports stating that she is the mother of his only biological son, Levi. Messing did nothing to correct incorrect reports. “I assumed it was somebody’s mistake and it had just fallen through the cracks,” she told VT Digger.

The mother of Sanders’ son is not Deborah Messing, but Susan Glaeser. VT Digger reported this based on the name on Levi’s birth certificate.  

Good journalism is not getting facts, however small, wrong. Despite truth being the first obligation for journalists, I wondered how incorrect information could get past editors and fact checkers in established news organizations.

So what should happen now? The article was published on July 9. I haven’t seen updated reports from any one of the national news organizations. I also never read a stated call to action from VT Digger on asking the national news organizations to correct their mistakes. However, they did publish the correct story. Is that enough?

Scrutiny over every detail of presidential candidates and their lives is only just beginning in the 2016 presidential race. Publishing first will inevitably take precedence over being right before votes are cast. But if the larger journalism community never corrects their published mistakes, however small, we get further away from actual news. In this case, it could mean influencing how votes are cast and understanding the next potential leader of our country.

Emily Turner4 Comments