There I was, among a dozen people invited last week to attend a national security presentation by a group preparing to brief security officials in Washington DC. We’d been invited to the presentation to ask questions, offer guidance on the content and style of the briefing prior to their Washington appearance.
Fifteen minutes before the event started I read an alert on my iPhone from one of America’s most influential newspapers. It said that the entire senior management of the Department of State had resigned en-masse, which the newspaper noted was unprecedented, and would have a negative impact on the Department of State's ability to function. The newspaper stated its belief that this was an act initiated by senior managers to jump ship before the Trump era began.
I decided this was news the briefers headed to Washington needed to know in order to fine tune their presentation. So I duly reported what I'd read just minutes before and offered a couple of suggestions about how to incorporate this explosive news into their briefing.
Then, just a few minutes after I’d spoken, another news source reported that the resignations were in fact not self-initiated by the senior managers, but were the result of President Trump’s firing a key manager and the subsequent acceptance by the President of the resignation letters from the other managers. The news report accurately pointed out that submitting one's resignation was standard procedure with top level Presidential appointees whenever there’s a change in administration - a very different picture of what had happened at the State Department. I felt sandbagged.
The newspaper, whose reporting I’ve relied on for many years, had been tripped up itself by the race to be among the first out of the gate. As a result, it had misled me and thousands of others, and I can tell you first hand that being misled by a long trusted mainstream source feels even worse than being fed fake news full of alternative facts.
It would be tragic indeed if the established mainstream press, in its quest to retain readership and remain profitable, were to give up its decades long reputation for rigorously vetted reporting on which so many Americans rely.
It’s still infinitely more important to be accurate than to beat the competition in breaking news.
Correction 11:30 a.m. Feb. 6: The text has been corrected to clarify that the paper was not the first to break the inaccurate story.