Glenn Greenwald. (AP Photo)
UPDATE #2 Pincus and the Post finally correct the article–with three, count 'em, key admissions, in three length grafs. Humbling, or one would hope.
UPDATE #1: Walter Pincus responds, a bit, to Washington Post media writer Erik Wemple. He “badly phrased” something, etc. Love Wemple’s comment: “Upon first reading the Pincus column, the Erik Wemple Blog noted its skeptical tone and figured that Pincus was sticking up for his killer sources in the national security community. Bah, responds Pincus. ‘I didn’t talk to anybody,’ he said.” Still no corrections.
The most shameful part of the Walter Pincus/Glenn Greenwald episode is not that the venerable Pincus would write a shoddy column—he’s done it before, especially when he turns to punditry, along with producing much valuable reporting over the many decades that I’ve been reading him—but that his paper, The Washington Post would not correct any of the errors, thirty-seven hours later (and counting).
At one time, opinion pieces were governed by different standards, at least in terms of corrections, but that’s no longer true at most media outlets. So there’s no excuse for Pincus and the Post not to act.
I wasn’t going to write about this, because early yesterday Greenwald posted a lengthy letter to Pincus outlining his complaints about the column, describing both factual errors and alleged journalistic malpractice in raising unfair “innuendo” and “guilt-by-association.” The letter received wide linkage, including at my own blog, so that seemed to cover it.
But now more than a day has passed since the letter was sent, and as far as I can see, not a word has been changed in the Pincus piece—not even the most humorous error, with Pincus (apparently far from web-savvy) not understanding that the WikiLeaks blog had simply picked up a piece Greenwald had written for Salon, he didn’t pen it for them (which was supposed to be the damning point). Dan Froomkin, the former popular Washington Post blogger, weighed in on Twitter today, calling on the paper and Pincus to apologize to Greenwald. Jay Rosen called whole episode “a strange, strange, adventure” and “stupefying.”
Also, this morning, Greenwald has now followed up with a column about all this for his home site, The Guardian. He reveals that Pincus, in response to his letter, e-mailed word that at least the “WikiLeaks” blog reference would be corrected. Greenwald replied that the proposed correction was in error. In any case, a correction still has not appeared online. Two excerpts from the Greenwald column:
Apparently, the Washington Post has decided to weigh in on the ongoing debate over “what is journalism?” with this answer: you fill up articles on topics you don’t know the first thing about with nothing but idle speculation, rank innuendo, and evidence-free accusations, all under the guise of “just asking questions”. You then strongly imply that other journalists who have actually broken a big story are involved in a rampant criminal conspiracy without bothering even to ask them about it first, all while hiding from your readers the fact that they have repeatedly and in great detail addressed the very “questions” you’re posing.
But shoddy journalism from the Washington Post is far too common to be worth noting. What was far worse was that Pincus’ wild conspiracy theorizing was accomplished only by asserting blatant, easily demonstrated falsehoods.
The paper’s official “corrections and clarifications” policy states that “the Washington Post always seeks to publish corrections and clarifications promptly after they come to our attention.” When corrections are to be made to articles published online, “the change should be made within the article and the correction should also be noted at the top of the item.”
The lengths to which some media outlets in this case have gone to assist the US government in trying to criminalize the journalism we’ve done has been remarkably revealing. But the willingness of the Post to aid in this effort by spewing falsehood-based innuendo, which they then permit to remain hour after hour even while knowing it’s false, is a reminder of how ill-advised it is to trust what you read in that establishment venue, and is a vibrant illustration of the reasons such organizations are held in such low esteem.
Greg Mitchell has written more than a dozen books and e-books, including two on WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning, Iraq and the media, Hiroshima, and influential political campaigns, including 2008 and 2012. All books described here.