Time for ABC to ‘fess up
Tuesday morning, I saw a social media post involving Kentucky that disturbed me enough to check it out and make sure it wasn’t the work of a foreign government trying to get Americans stirred up. Indeed it was true, at least the central allegation: That the ABC Evening News and Good Morning America aired footage of massive explosions at the Knob Creek, Ky. shooting range in 2017 during a story about fighting between Turkish and Kurdish forces in Syria. As this is written, a bit after noon Tuesday, network brass has not explained how this happened, but they need to, for reasons beyond their own reputation. They need to explain whether it was an honest mistake or whether an employee pulled the wrong footage for a very wrong reason – to make the story more dramatic, or, worst of all, to further a political agenda. It is possible to pull the wrong video for a story, perhaps especially in this digital age – but twice? Regardless, apologizing for doing so isn’t enough. A credo I tried to imprint upon my students when I was a visiting professor at the University of Kentucky for three semesters was this: A journalist’s job is to seek and tell the truth. I told them if that’s not their most important goal, they should get into another business, like, say, public relations or politics. Dear Readers know I’ve made my share and perhaps more than my share of mistakes at the Sun in the nearly five-and-a-half years I’ve had the pleasure of working here. However, not one of them has been because I wanted to glitz up a story or had an agenda. (Folks who believe differently should contact me, and if they’re right, I promise to write a correction, an apology, let them slug me on the shoulder, and give them a month’s worth of mistake-free Woodford Suns.) In my line of work, when you make a mistake, you apologize, run a correction, and work harder to make sure you don’t make the same mistake again. These are perilous times to be a member of what my friend Al Cross calls the “news media” – a way to differentiate between journalistic institutions and others with less lofty goals. People in my line of work have been declared “the enemy of the people” and worse by a president who routinely says things that aren’t true. I don’t think the Woodford Sun is a likely target of the next journalist-hating pipe bomber or mass shooter echoing Trumpian rhetoric, but there’s certainly a better chance of such a thing happening these days. And I’m a bit vexed by the selective moral outrage of those who bash journalists for honest mistakes, yet give their favorite politician a pass on his falsehoods. Lest I be accused of (or commit) “whataboutism,” in which the accused says, “Oh, but he did something bad, too,” let me circle back to ABC. Network officials should hire an independent investigator to determine how video from a shooting range in Bullitt County came to illustrate a story about events in Syria – then release the findings. If the person or persons who made that mistake did so because they were lazy, or sensationalists, or had a political agenda, they should be fired. While decades of media bashing (some of it on the mark, in my view) has left those in my profession viewed with suspicion and worse by plenty, I beg to differ, and not just because it’s been my career most of my adult life. I’ve done radio and television news and print journalism in the U.S. Navy, Owensboro, Frankfort, Louisville, Lexington and Versailles. I can’t think of one colleague or competitor who deliberately made mistakes (though I do recall a couple of TV types who were a bit, shall we say, dramatic). We try to get things right, and when we don’t, we acknowledge and correct our mistakes. ABC News needs to do the same and more.