Years ago, when I was relatively new to this business, I messed up a story. I made a mistake.
So I sat down and had a conversation with myself. If I were an engineer, I thought, and I made a mistake in designing a building and it fell down, I could be held criminally liable. Its been that way for about 3,800 years, since the time of Hammurabis code.
I should try to hold myself to the same standard, I decided.
Of course, simply resolving such a thing doesnt solve the problem. The fact is, everyone makes mistakes. Doctors leave scissors inside patients sometimes. Engineers design buildings that fall down, and reporters make errors.
Sometimes the mistakes are minor. You misspell someones name.
Sometimes theyre major. Killers are misidentified. People are wrongly identified as killers. The wrong people are named as terrorist bombers.
And sometimes, one suspects, errors become driven by an agenda.
Reporters are supposed to be unbiased, objective.
Lets be honest, though. No one can be completely objective. People are almost always going to come down on one side of an issue or another.
Dont tell me that Ernie Pyle wasnt pulling for the Americans during World War II, or that Edward R. Murrow wasnt pulling for the British during the blitz.
Thats the way it is. Its been that way since Thomas Paine wrote Common Sense.
You just try to keep your biases under control.
And then some guy opened fire at Washington Navy Yard and killed 12 people, and the mistakes began to flow and the agendas reared their heads.
For a little while, some news organizations were identifying the wrong man as the shooter.
Thats what happens, I guess, in an age when everyone is trying to be the first to tweet information and is willing to just brush it off when it turns out they are wrong.
And for a couple of days, some news organizations all over were saying the shooter was carrying several guns, or just an AR-15 rifle.
Some news organizations were reporting that he had a shotgun, but others stuck with the AR-15, even a day after the shooting. One newspaper even put a picture of an AR-15 on its cover, saying the same gun had been involved in another shooting. To some, the story wasnt about a shooting, it was about a gun.
The AR-15 is, after all, the whipping boy of the gun community. Its the poster boy for people who want guns outlawed. Theyre black and scary-looking. Too bad they dont all come in pink. (You can get a pink one, by the way.)
Then, it was definitively announced that Aaron Alexis had used a shotgun. The people who hate the AR-15 must have been crushed.
Now, as we read about the 12 dead victims and the shooter, were finally getting to the real story. Why are we so slipshod when it comes to granting security clearances? Were talking about a man who was involved in two previous shooting incidents, who had known anger issues, who had mental health issues and who had told people he was hearing voices, but who still got a high level security clearance.
Thats our problem.