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May 13, 2004

REPORTERS ARE BIG ON ASKING OTHER PEOPLE FOR APOLOGIES, but this rather lame effort from the Globe is typical of what happens when they screw up royally:

Editor's Note: A photograph on Page B2 yesterday did not meet Globe standards for publication. The photo portrayed Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner and activist Sadiki Kambon displaying graphic photographs that they claimed showed US soldiers raping Iraqi women. Although the photograph was reduced in size between editions to obscure visibility of the images on display, at no time did the photograph meet Globe standards. Images contained in the photograph were overly graphic, and the purported abuse portrayed had not been authenticated. The Globe apologizes for publishing the photo.

Note that it doesn't say, anywhere, that the images were actually fraudulent, though they were. Is this an adequate apology for running explicitly pornographic images that were falsely labeled as representing atrocities by American troops? Especially after news reports that such photos were being circulated had appeared in a number of British and American media outlets?

UPDATE: Reader Chris Regan emails:

So when the three Globe editors realized they made a huge mistake they kept running the photo with the porn "slightly" more obscured? Weird. Are they that personally invested in the photo?

He also suspects that if, say, a right-wing evangelical group had been peddling mislabeled porn in a press conference it would get more attention, and skepticism, from the press. Could be.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Interesting tidbit -- I wrote about this over at my MSNBC site and the editors removed the link to the Globe picture because of MSNBC's policy against linking to pornography.

I have to say that I'm surprised that the usual journalistic-ethics folks aren't making much of this lapse of standards. Kurtz doesn't even mention it in his "media notes" today. But Dan Kennedy has more, and notes that bloggers spotted these photos as bogus long before the Globe published them. He also addresses the Globe's very weak correction:

Also, in my quick update this morning, I neglected to note that the Globe failed to include some pretty vital information in its "Editor's Note" today - or, for that matter, anywhere else in the paper: the fact that these photos had been exposed as fakes quite a bit before Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner and local activist Sadiki Kambon unveiled them at a news conference on Tuesday.

You'd have to buy the Boston Herald, he observes, to find out the full story. Ouch!

MORE: Several readers say they've gotten this email back from the Globe in response to complaints:

The Globe is aware it made a serious error, and the paper apologized in an Editor's Note published today, Thursday, on Page A2. The error happened in part because of a miscommunication between photo desk staffers, and in part because the usual "checks and balances" system of review did not work as it should have. An upcoming ombudsman column, probably to run Monday, will provide more details on how this particular lapse in judgment and procedures occurred.

Probably Monday. Not as fast as they expected an explanation and apology from Bush, but better than nothing.