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With its Seth Rich retraction, Fox News doesn’t behave like news

Screen capture: Archive.org

Right-leaning viewers think Fox News reveals a side of the news not seen in mainstream media. Left-leaning viewers would say the same about MSNBC. But there’s a difference. Fox News just retracted its controversial article about murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich in a way completely different from how journalists should behave.

You can read the original article on the Wayback Machine here. (Thank God for the archive.org.) It’s a twisted tale, but Fox News reported that according to its sources, there was communication between DNC staffer Seth Rich and Wikileaks. Then DNC emails ended up on Wikileaks servers. Rich’s murder was grist for right-wing sites’ speculation that his leaking emails led to his murder.

Now, though, the whole case has fallen apart since the original source recanted. So Fox News removed the original article from its site and published this retraction:

Statement on coverage of Seth Rich murder investigation

On May 16, a story was posted on the Fox News website on the investigation into the 2016 murder of DNC Staffer Seth Rich. The article was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting. Upon appropriate review, the article was found not to meet those standards and has since been removed.

We will continue to investigate this story and will provide updates as warranted.

This is a retraction but not a correction. Corrections don’t use meaningless and self-serving weasel words like “high degree of scrutiny” and “appropriate review.” And the passive “has since been removed” begs the question of who removed it, and why.

As Kelly McBride from Poynter explains in an excellent analysis:

A good correction does these things:

  • States what the journalists got wrong
  • Replaces that information with accurate information
  • Explains how the error happened
  • Appears in a place where consumers who saw the original information are likely to see the update

Fox News’ correction on Tuesday did none of this. The two-paragraph statement, published under the “politics” category on the network’s website, doesn’t say what about Fox News’ reporting was inaccurate (that its original source backed away from his claim that he had information showing Rich was in touch with Wikileaks).

There is no explanation of why they made the mistake, nor was there an apology (even though the article caused lots of suffering for Rich’s family). And if you go to the URL for the original article, you get only a 404 not found error. It’s been flushed down the memory hole.

Regardless of what you think about the commentary on Fox News, there is plenty of accurate reporting there. But reporters make mistakes. A responsible news organization owns up to its mistakes and makes it easy to see why it made them.

Why hasn’t Fox News done this?

Because Sean Hannity still wants to talk about it?

Because it would upset conspiracy theorists who love this stuff and watch Fox News?

Because Fox cannot admit its own fallibility?

Then why retract the article at all?

There is no middle ground. If the article is true, why retract it? If the article is false, why not explain it?

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  1. The answer is clear: Threatened lawsuits. The network is already facing an avalanche of them. It muzzled Hannity, to save itself from another one. We’re all better off.

    1. Seems likely. A cowardly response, though. Stand behind what you wrote or explain why you don’t.