Why people get mad at the media (part 10) The Associated Press corrects an important media story with a non correction

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Bruce B. Brugmann

Well, to its credit, the Associated Press did put out a Feb. l correction to its story of Jan. 24, which reported wrongly that the Guardian and the Media Alliance had "failed to convince" a federal judge to open the sealed documents in the Reilly vs. Hearst antitrust and media consolidation case. The story made it appear that Hearst and the Media News Group/Singleton won and the Guardian lost the motion and the records would stay sealed. The story appeared in the Contra Costa Times and San Jose Mercury News (both Media News Group/Singleton papers).

The problem with the correction: it only compounded the original mistake and kept the point of it all neatly obscured. I couldn't understand it, as the blogger on the story. G. W. Schulz couldn't understand it, as the reporter on the story. And Executive Editor Tim Redmond couldn't understand it, as the writer of the editorial on the issue. So how could anybody else ever understand what happened. Here is the AP correction:

"SAN FRANCISCO--in a Jan.24 story, the Associated Press said a federal judge had denied requests from Media Alliance and the San Francisco Bay Guardian for access to documents from a deal between the San Francisco Chronicle and the owner of about a dozen Bay Area daily newspapers. The story should have noted that Denver-based MediaNews Group Inc. and the Hearst Corporation, the Chronicle's publisher, had earlier voluntarily
released some records that had been filed under seal."

"Had earlier voluntarily released some records?" The publishers refused our request to release the documents and only released a large portion of them under legal duresss after we filed our lawsuit. "Some records?" We got 90 per cent of the sealed records, including such key documents as a Sept. 26 deposition taken by the U.S. Department of Justice from James Asher, Hearst's chief legal officer and business development officer, that showed that Hearst and Singleton had discussed mutual investments and collaboration for years. We also got the right to stay in the case as an intervenor so that we are in a legal position to challenge any further sealing of documents for the duration of the case.

It was a clear and decisive victory in an important sunshine in the federal courts case, but you couldn't tell it from the original story or from the "correction."

Note to Dean Singleton, incoming chairman of the board of directors of the Associated Press. Spread the word down through the ranks. In stories involving you and other AP member publishers sealing records in federal court and seeking corporate favors, it's best for AP to take special pains to do fair straightforward stories of what is actually going on. And if you are asked to do a correction or give the non-monopoly side a fair shake, do a correction that is a real correction and explains what actually went on in context. It would also be helpful to provide links to the original story and to the actual documents so people can check for themselves. B3

AP: Clarification: Hearst-MediaNews story