People who follow my Facebook postings know the recent death of Abbey Lincoln at the age of 80 remains a story that’s frequently updated, sometimes several times daily. Beloved by the jazz community for her memorable work as a singer and songwriter, Lincoln also made a difference working for civil rights at a time when standing up and speaking out could negatively affect a career in the arts. She also made memorable films working with directors who made bold statements about issues of the day. But while major news organizations did note her passing, most of the subsequent coverage of her legacy remains online.
Facebook’s also where you’ll find spirited debate about Park 51, the proposed lower Manhattan Islamic community and prayer center that the Associated Press told its staff journalists should no longer be called the "Ground Zero Mosque" in AP stories or headlines. One of my conservative Facebook friends posted an impassioned rebuttal to that policy after I posted the verbatim Associated Press memo about the decision.
Another friend, an anchor in Los Angeles who used to work with me in Winston-Salem, wrote an eloquent blog about his reaction to the ongoing debate and requested viewer feedback. We exchanged FB messages about the feedback and what he left out of the blog…his Japanese-American ancestry and awareness of what happened to that community after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The relocation of those American citizens to camps in another state and the loss of their West Coast property happened, in part, because some people considered them an untrustworthy “other.” Yet many men from that community volunteered for the U.S. military, fought bravely, bled and died during World War II. Then, after the war, they returned to a society where one veteran who lost an arm fighting in Europe was told by a stateside barber, “We don’t cut Jap hair.” That veteran now represents California in the U.S. Senate, and as longest-serving member of that body is in the line of Presidential succession.
That history, and similar stories of wartime and postwar bias faced by returning African-American veterans like my stepfather, were on my mind as I read coverage of the ongoing debate about what could be built two blocks away from Ground Zero. Once again, the aftermath of an unprovoked attack on America has people in a position where their loyalty to this nation is questioned. It’s a time when conscientious journalists strive more than ever to report facts, not tabloid shorthand.
Here’s an example of what can happen when facts are omitted or overlooked and never corrected. A reporter comes to interview you for a positive story, which is printed or aired repeatedly with your name misspelled or your point of view misquoted. That same story goes viral, to the point where people start referring to you by the misspelled name or misquoted point of view, despite your request to correct the error. How would you feel?
A good reporter wants to make sure every story is accurate, and that’s how the editor who wrote that Associated Press memo explains the policy that some people question today.
What’s your opinion? I welcome your feedback here, or on Facebook.