Details matter — in the news and at the White House
As a journalist in America hearing President Donald Trump’s constant bashing of the media, I know that more than ever.
My concern isn’t with Trump’s criticism of specific stories, or even his ongoing jousting with reporters. In fact, I often have conversations with sources or readers who call to dispute items that we have reported. Here, when we are wrong, we say we are wrong, and then we tell all our readers about it by printing a correction in a consistent location inside the newspaper’s front cover. We don’t hide from corrections or think that corrections shake our credibility. Rather, we believe they add to our credibility because we are not afraid to admit when we’ve made a mistake.
However, when we are right, I explain that to my callers, too. Sometimes it’s just a matter of opinion, and in those cases we generally must find a way to agree to disagree.
Still, words that come out of Oval Office are impactful not only to Americans, but to the world. They send a message that Americans hear and believe.
Last week I received an email from a reader who was angry with an Associated Press story we published about Trump’s press conference on Thursday because he believed the writer’s opinion had crept into the story.
“Why can’t you guys report the news and keep your opinions to yourself?” this reader said.
How did I respond? I re-read the wire story, then emailed the reader to tell him he was absolutely right, that there are some instances in which the writer’s opinion appears to have crept into the story. And then I reminded my staff to edit more carefully and critically for fairness, balance and opinion.
The reader may have been surprised with my response, but frankly, it was the right thing to do.
If we want our readers to keep their faith, then we must earn it.
Likewise, so must the president. Debate and disagreement are legitimate. Openly lambasting, criticizing and name calling are not.
That includes details we print in the newspaper, as well as those in information released by the White House.
Tweets coming from Trump’s personal Twitter account and some in statements coming from the Oval Office are lacking in attention to detail.
It started on Trump’s first full day in office, when he described himself as “honered” to serve as the 45th president. The tweet was sent at 12:02 p.m. I’m happy to report that the tweet was deleted and replaced with “honored” spelled correctly about 9 minutes later.
Sure, social media posts are generally typed quickly and often are riddled with typos. But, come on, this is the official Twitter account of the President of the United States.
Here are a few other embarrassing typographical or spelling errors pointed out recently by the Associated Press:
Trump’s first presidential visit with a foreign leader was with British Prime Minister Theresa May in January. The White House schedule twice referred to the British leader as “Teresa May” — who happens to be a British topless model and porn star.
The White House this month released a list of 78 terrorist attacks that it said had been under-reported by the media. The list misspelled “attaker” 27 times. San Bernardino came out “San Bernadino.” Denmark came out “Denmakr.”
Now before you start emailing me about the Tribune Chronicle’s imperfections, let me say no one is more painfully aware of our mistakes than I am, and my staff will acknowledge my frequent displeasure. In fact, they hear me on almost daily rants about how incorrect spelling or grammar gives our readers no reason to have faith in anything we report. Without our credibility, we have nothing.
It may sound like nitpicking, but what message does this send?
We all need to do a better job. Little details count.