We all screw up, both intentionally and inadvertently. We all have moments we look back on and think, Wow, I did not nail that one. The key is not to keep messing things afterward. And this week is already offering plenty of examples in the art of getting things wrong.
Let's start with the most clearcut case of making a bad thing definitely not better, courtesy of Connecticut newspaperman Michael Schroeder. Schroeder recently attained a degree of Internet fame via Bristol Press reporter Steve Majerus-Collins' feisty and public Christmas Eve declaration he was quitting his job. As he explained at the time, "I have learned with horror that my boss shoveled a story into my newspaper – a terrible, plagiarized piece of garbage about the court system – and then stuck his own fake byline on it." Majerus-Collins was referring to a December story in the Bristol Press by one "Edward Clarkin" regarding how "state economies remain competitive," one that favorably mentioned Sheldon Adelson. It was heavily critical of Nevada District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez, who, as the Washington Post notes, "is presiding over a case involving Adelson’s Sands Casino." What it didn't mention was that until this week, Schroeder was the manager of the News & Media Capital Group, "the company through which the billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his family bought The Las Vegas Review-Journal for $140 million." As Majerus-Collins wrote in his farewell, "When enterprising reporters asked my boss about it, he claimed to know nothing or told them he had no comment. Yesterday, they blew the lid off this idiocy completely, proving that Mr. Schroeder lied, that he submitted a plagiarized story, bypassed what editing exists and basically used the pages of my newspaper, secretly, to further the political agenda of his master out in Las Vegas. In sum, the owner of my paper is guilty of journalistic misconduct of epic proportions."
In a Tuesday "note to our readers" in the Bristol Press, Schroeder gently said that "Like most newspapers, I believe we mostly get it right, but sometimes we can get it wrong." He then admitted that parts of the article had been "taken from related Internet sites and were not credited." He went on to explain, "A part of the story involved a matter concerning the buyer of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. There should have been a tagline indicating that I had a business relationship with that person….It was a combination of writing and reporting from multiple sources, with anonymity promised, in this case, inappropriately. That's why a pseudonym — 'Edward Clarkin,' which had been used before — was used in this instance." He concluded, "I personally apologize to you, our readers, for the concern caused by this story."
Aside from the total humdinger of the stunt itself, it's incredible that Schroeder still doesn't get that the apology shouldn't be for the "concern" caused. It should be for failing in truly spectacular fashion to do the single task of journalism — tell the truth. It also doesn't at all address why an ostensibly reputable paper would publish a pseudonymous piece attacking a Vegas judge, and do so without acknowledging that it was granting "anonymity" to the source or sources. Weakest apology thus far this 2016.
Lower down on the whoops ladder, there's Newsweek senior writer Alexander Nazaryan, who in the early hours of Wednesday sent out a tweet saying, "Ted Cruz has a strong ground game in Iowa" — accompanied with a black and white photo of a Nazi march. Naturally, this was catnip to the Conservatives of Twitter, evidence of liberal media bias. Nazaryan has since removed the post, but with a shrugging admission that "I deleted my tweet calling Ted Cruz a Nazi. Not fair to his totally decent supporters, as much as I dislike the man himself." He did not advance the case for his maturity as a journalist by adding, "Part of my job is having opinions. One opinion I have is that Ted Cruz would be a very bad president." Opinions are fine. Nazi comparisons — hackneyed and unfunny at best, irresponsible journalism for sure.
Finally, in the realm of at least making an effort, Hasbro has finally heard the pleas of #WheresRey and announced that they are "happy to share that we will be including her in the Monopoly: Star Wars game, available later this year." The question is, why wasn't she there from the start, when, as Vanity Fair's Katey Rich puts it this week, she's "the main character and is established as the primary hero of the franchise moving forward"? Just earlier this week, Hasbro said that because the game was released in September, Rey "was not included to avoid revealing a key plot line." Not, say, because she's a woman and you guys just forgot. And in their announcement, Hasbro addresses a curious 8 year-old girl's "passion for Rey," but doesn't apologize for her original omission.
The elements of fixing a wrong are simple. Show you know what the problem was. Show how you're fixing it. Say you're sorry. In different ways, Schroeder, Nazaryan and Hasbro all dropped the ball on those criteria this week. But maybe at least they can try to hold up the most important one: Just don't do it again.