Saturday, June 19, 2010

THERE'S NO EXCUSE FOR SLOPPY JOURNALISM: MEA CULPA

The week of June 14, I posted a piece called “A lie can travel far while truth putting on its shoes.” The piece was written after I searched for the origin of a quote accusing Randy Prescott, a British Petroleum executive, of having made the statement, “Louisiana isn’t the only place that has shrimp.”

The reason for my involvement with the story was a call from my son, Dave, who makes a hobby of squashing unfounded Internet rumors and chain letters. An angry Face Book post (dozens, actually) gave the impression that Prescott had made the statement as a flip remark and contained the BP exec’s alleged phone number and e-mail address. A virtual cyber-lynching was in progress on the Internet.

I tracked the source of the quote to The Lens, an online publication covering the New Orleans area. The quote came from an article titled “Five years after Katrina, the return of disaster capitalism?” The byline was attributed to Karen Gadbois and the quotation was near the end of the article: “In the words of fellow BP rep Randy Prescott: ‘Louisiana isn’t the only place that has shrimp.’” No context was given for Prescott’s statement.

In my post, I put the quote in context and made the statement that, “The editor of the National Enquirer could take lessons from the people at The Lens.”

Over the next couple of days I heard from Steve Beatty, Managing editor of The Lens, twice, asking for corrections. He pointed out a factual error: I had placed the meeting of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Saint Bernard Parish. He was correct; there was no excuse for my error. The true location was Jefferson Parish, Metairie, Louisiana.

(I took down the contested post and a second post, "Yes, Virginia, Writing Out of Context is Also a Lie," after Beatty questioned my integrity and my credentials, in order to do further research.)

Beatty also called me to task for making the statement in my post, “This is what happened,” as I was laying out the context of the Prescott’s statement. Beatty was correct. It was sloppy journalism and might have given the impression that I was present, though I thought I had made it clear.

In an analysis of the emotions raised by the Gulf oil spill titled “Americans Rage Against BP For Better And Often For Worse” that appeared in the Daily Finance, analyst Sarah Gilbert looked at the original article that appeared in the Lens and concluded pretty much as I did that Prescott’s answer to a simple question from a restaurant owner about the safety of Gulf seafood was, was parlayed into a firestorm.

In summary: Randy Prescott made the statement and it was a poor choice of words. Hindsight is 20/20, however; Beatty, the editor of The Lens would have done well to let the story die a natural death instead of trying to defend a misleading statement that led to the character assassination of Prescott; I wrote a sloppy story and let hyperbole creep in.

Here are corrections you asked for, Mr. Beatty. Randy Prescott is probably still waiting for your apology for a sensationalistic, out-of-context quotation that made him a national villain.

1 comment:

thelens said...

Mr. Hunter,

I appreciate your latest post.

Reasonable people can disagree, and plenty of people have disagreed with our story and the use of that quote. That's fine. I'm always open to fair criticism.

If you ever find yourself down in New Orleans, please let me know. I'd be happy to buy you a cup of coffee or something stronger.

Regards,
Steve Beatty