When it comes to newspaper correction notices, it doesn’t get much bigger than this. A respected Atlantic Canada broadsheet apologizes to the country’s Prime Minister for an error in a story concerning the PM’s attendance at the funeral of a former governor-general. Furthermore, the apology is necessitated not by errors of fact; rather, it concerns what was apparently either outright fabrication or the insertion of gossip or speculation — on the newspaper’s copy desk, of all places.
Many Canadians will remember the controversy that erupted in the wake of the Prime Minister’s attendance at the funeral mass for former governor-general Romeo LeBlanc on July 3. Like others in attendance, Harper went forward during the mass to celebrate the eucharist, during which a priest traditionally places a wafer (or the “host”), considered the body of Christ, on the tongue of each celebrant.
In the Telegraph-Journal’s story, written by reporters Rob Linke and Adam Huras in nearly Memramcook, N.B., the newspaper asserted that the Prime Minister had tucked the wafer into his pocket, sparking follow-up queries and stories by other news organizations and a low-level national debate about the propriety of partaking or abstaining from religious rituals when they are not one’s own.
In a blog post today, Montreal-based journalist Craig Silverman, Canada’s undisputed king of chroniclers when it comes to media corrections, notes that the names of the newspaper’s publisher and editor-in-chief don’t appear in today’s editions, promising to keep an eye on developments in the executive suite. Silverman’s reputable website, Regret the Error, also notes that the paper took tough action earlier this year with a summer intern who misstated some facts in a story about the University of New Brunswick’s decision to grant an honorary degree to Premier Shawn Graham. Silverman, in fact, wrote a column for the Columbia Journalism Review on that issue.
Today’s Telegraph-Journal’s apology is directed to the Prime Minister, as well as to its two reporters. No mention of what consequences, if any, will be felt by the copy editor(s) responsible. The T-J’s editor-in-chief, by the way, is Shawna Richer, whose byline may be remembered by readers of The London Free Press and The Globe and Mail. Update: CBC News reported this evening that Richer has been fired and that Jamie Irving is no longer the newspaper’s publisher.
The irony won’t be lost on any journalist: Editors and others who deal with copy are at their desks expressly for the purpose of ensuring accuracy. And although editing mistakes happen as easily as they do at the reporting level, it’s unlike copy editors to deliberately insert erroneous facts.
And if “transparency is the new objectivity,” events at the Telegraph-Journal, despite today’s embarrassment and prostration, are still less than perfectly clear.