The Herald’s misreporting – ctd.

Sharon Fraser is a Halifax journalist, women’s rights advocate, and the wife of Dan O’Connor, the chief of staff to Premier Dexter embroiled in a controversy over inaccurate reporting by the Chronicle-Herald over the weekend. She describes the events at the heart of the Herald’s misreporting:

I have no desire to keep this going eternally but I wrote this summary this morning and thought you might be interested.

Here’s what happened:

On Friday, the Herald published a front-page story reducing an important government initiative and its announcement to the amount of money that was spent over several months in its preparation.  The headline — the government announcement was about wind-power and other forms of renewable electricity — was “Blowing money.”  The headline and lead stated that the cost of the announcement included the cost of preparing the new five year renewable electricity policy.

There were other inaccuracies in the story and its whole premise was based on the Herald’s contention that the government was squandering taxpayers’ money.

Dan wrote a comment to the Herald online forum, strongly criticizing the story, its inaccuracies and the fact that Opposition Leader Stephen MacNeil had been called for a comment for the story but no government representative had been called.

At this point, the Herald had choices:  It could have said, “we stand by our story,” and published Dan’s comment.  Or, as it seems to know who its anonymous commenters are, it could have called Dan (or another government representative) and interviewed him about the alleged inaccuracies and do a follow-up story about the government’s position on the story — and on the original event.

The Herald didn’t make either of those choices.  Instead, using the same reporter who had done the original story, it went after Dan, ultimately smearing his reputation by falsely claiming he had twice “denied” writing the comments, then writing that he had “confessed” after “repeated questions.”

I was standing right beside him during the phone calls.  The reporter called him twice.  In the first call, she asked him if he had sent an email to the paper that day.  He said no.  She called him back, very shortly after, and said she had asked the wrong question.  She then asked if he had sent comments to the online forum.  He said he had.  There were no denials, no repeated questions, no “confession.”

On Saturday, the Herald filled much of its front page with a story (and full-length photo) — centred on the fact that Dan had submitted anonymous comments to the online forum and the fabrication that he had lied about it.  His comments, which they had refused to post on Friday, were on Saturday’s front page.  Well into the story, the Herald reported the government’s objections to the inaccuracies in the original story, and the first comments from a government representative about the previous day’s front page story.  (In conversations with several government representatives, the Herald never denied fundamental errors in the original story, but refused to correct them, refused to apologize, and said they “stood by” the various editorial staff who decided to write, edit and present the Friday story.)

On Saturday, I sent a comment to the online forum under my own name, disputing their version of events and accusing them of fabricating what they had written about Dan.  My comment was not published and within a short period of time, the story was closed to further comments.

On Monday, the Herald ran an editorial that was presented as a defense of the original story without ever ever repeating its premise or endorsing its errors.  The editorial added information that changed the topic from the renewable electricity announcement to the use of consultants — which had not been the subject of a Herald news story or news gathering.  The editorial said not a word about the earlier inaccuracies or the failure to offer the government a chance to participate in the story and concluded by suggesting the government should simply send out press releases when it wants to make an announcement.