2011-01-13 The Guardian adequately addresses WikiLeaks-Tsvangirai Falsehood

Early last week, The Guardian published an Op-Ed piece by a James Richardson, which attributed to Wikileaks all of the journalistic responsibility for possible fallout in the Zimbabwean government following from the release of the 09HARARE1004 cable.

I covered the initial James Richardson piece several hours after its publication, here on WL Central, where I pointed out that the Guardian in fact bears as much if not more responsibility for the consequences of the publication of any of the Cablegate cables, because it is in fact the media partners who greenlight and redact (or fail to redact) each of the cables, before they are forwarded to Wikileaks.

Here is my post about the inadequate correction by the Guardian, which was performed on Tuesday, a full week after the original article was published. Glenn Greenwald also covered the issue yesterday, in a comprehensive article on Salon.com. There was also some dispute about a minor detail of the case, which I covered here.

The Guardian's Alan Rusbridger yesterday responded to a tweet by Greenwald to the effect that The Guardian would "reply at greater length" to questions he had raised about the satisfactoriness of The Guardian's correction of its James Richardson piece.

The Guardian has now done so, in a piece by Ian Katz, which acknowledges the worries I outlined in this post, and proceeds to give a reasonably balanced appraisal of the situation.

We learn of the mitigating factors: that neither Richardson, nor the American editor who cleared his piece for publication, knew of the publication procedure which problematized Richardson's argument. While there is some merit to this excuse, I think this represents a low standard of research for anyone producing an Op-Ed piece.

But while I do not agree with everything Katz argues, it represents an adequately public notice of the mistake in the Richardson article, and an attempt by The Guardian to address its own unfair practices.

It puts to bed the notion that Wikileaks bears the sole responsibility for the publication of 09HARARE1004. There can remain difference of opinion about who bears more blame, whether that blame is justifiably apportioned, whether the amendments to the original Richardson paper were adequate, and on the broader issues of journalistic responsibility generated by the Tsvangirai affair, but The Guardian's move here ensures that those debates will occur with reference to the facts about how the cables are published.

This can only be described as commendable. The dearth of facts in the history of reportage on Cablegate has been the most oppressive facet of the issue. Citizens with an interest in Wikileaks have become painfully aware of the willingness of the mainstream media, not only to distort the news (which one might realistically expect) but to be blatantly irresponsible with matters of straightforward fact.

Differences of opinion on a matter are sorely undermined if the discourse has lost contact with crucial and salient facts on that matter. While it would be preferable if falsehood-based Op-Ed pieces like Richardson's were spotted at the editorial stage, it would yet be fortunate if we could rely on The Guardian to adhere to the minimal standard of professional honesty it demonstrated today.

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