Why Hasn't The Washington Post Admitted That It Totally Screwed Up Its 'Free Super WiFi' Report?

from the this-is-getting-silly dept

Sometimes the press screws up. Anyone can screw up. The best thing to do is to admit that you screwed up, apologize, and make it right. At times, we've had to do that, sometimes even admitting we were just plain wrong. It happens. You apologize, you make things right, and you move on. However, for some people, that's hard, and apparently the Washington Post is included in that bunch. Earlier this week, we did a big debunking on the WaPo's incredibly misleading story about the FCC and "super WiFi." The story was on the front page of the Washington Post, suggesting (incorrectly) that there was a "new" proposal from the FCC to blanket the US in free WiFi.

The truth was that there was nothing of the sort. There was a minor step in a decade-long fight over putting some old TV spectrum to better use. It wasn't new. It wasn't anything important. And it had little to nothing to do with blanketing the US in free WiFi -- especially free WiFi supplied by the FCC (as the Post article implied, and which many people took to be true). A few others got on the debunking train as well, and one of the earlier thorough debunkings came from Ars Technica's Jon Brodkin, who pointed out that it was just bad journalism at work.

While some of the others who picked up on the original story have since admitted they were mistaken, Brodkin has a new article pointing out that the original story won't die. He was contacted to go on Current TV about it until he explained that there was no story. But the really awful part is that the Washington Post itself and reporter Cecilia Kang (who normally does good work, so this still has me baffled) still have not corrected their original piece. Instead, Kang put up a weak follow up piece that added five "things to know" about the plan. The "five things" are all accurate, but they were sort of core to the original story and weren't in there. The whole point is that the original story is incredibly misleading, and the proper thing to do was to put a giant correction notice on it, pointing out that they screwed up the original story. It was misleading to the extreme, and at points, implied things that were simply incorrect.

Yes, it's embarrassing to admit you were wrong, but it's more embarrassing to let a wrong story live on. As Brodkin notes, because the original story is still out there and uncorrected, the false story lives on in many places. He also notes that the Washington Post is standing by the story, which makes no sense:
I ended up talking to the Post reporter on the phone and e-mailing with the Post's ombudsman. The ombudsman told me that the FCC confirmed to the Post that the "free Wi-Fi" story was correct, which is odd, because I also talked to people at the FCC who said the exact opposite. Similarly, a TechCrunch reporter wrote that "my contact at the FCC told me that there was no such plan" as the one reported by the Post.

The Post reporter was genuinely nice and seemed eager to correct the record, but the execution was lacking. She followed up with a more realistic piece titled "Five things to know about 'free' public Wi-Fi." It explains some of the realities of the situation, such as the fact that the FCC won't be building any networks itself and that whatever networks are built won't necessarily be used to provide free Internet access.

The Post's follow-up story was all well and good, but the original story was never corrected or retracted. In addition to getting the front-page treatment, the initial Post story was coupled with a cringe-inducing video titled "FCC offers path to free Internet access." A host begins the spot by asking, "What if Wi-Fi didn't come from a router in your living room but instead from powerful TV antennas? And better yet, what if you didn't have to pay for it? That possibility could become a reality across the US thanks to a new proposal by the Federal Communications Commission." (Have I made it clear that the proposal is not new and never required "free access," either?)
And people wonder why folks have trouble "trusting" the press these days?


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Josef Anvil (profile), Feb 8th, 2013 @ 4:22am

    Stop whining

    You interwebs bloggers are all the same. You want facts and truths. You don't know what a really good story is all about. Leave journalism to the professionals.

    I've even heard that you guys are pissing off some reputable jurnos out there with your lack of professional ethics.

    #teribuhl

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 4:22am

    why do you think? you actually expect a big company to admit it's made a monumental fuck up? you're in dreamland!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    Joseph M. Durnal, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 4:50am

    I must have missed this story

    I want my free government Wi-Fi and I want it now!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 5:05am

    It sounds like free, blanket wi-fi *could* be a result of this change. Isn't that interesting? Even if the matter has not been brought to people's attention before.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 5:05am

    I trust the press.

    I trust them to be incredibly biased and to get their facts wrong.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    RonKaminsky (profile), Feb 8th, 2013 @ 5:26am

    Re: Stop whining

    Yeah, anyone who actually checks facts is a useless journalist who can't be trusted to push out what we famous people make up out of whole cloth (while ignoring our dirty laundry)...

    #MTeo_5

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Jim L, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 6:06am

    Open Wireless

    Even though this report will probably never happen, it's opened up some really good discussions about the possibilities. I believe it will probably end up being a local thing rather than national. My city, Pittsburgh, has 2 free hours of WiFi per day downtown and there is talk of expanding it citywide. That's certainly a start.

    Because of some of the discussions that were begun by this article, I found openwireless.org, so it might even end up being an individual thing.

    I've always like what Bruce Schneier has said about his open WiFi access and I am now helping in my own small way by allowing free, open guest access on my home wireless router.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
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    kehvan (profile), Feb 8th, 2013 @ 6:20am

    I'd imagine WaPo will admit to screwing up this story about the same time they admit they fabricated the Jessica Lynch story.

     

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  9.  
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    dennis deems (profile), Feb 8th, 2013 @ 6:41am

    Re: I must have missed this story

    And while they're at it, get big gubbmint off my back!!!!1!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 6:56am

    Re: Re: Stop whining

    "Yeah, anyone who actually checks facts is a useless journalist..."

    You meant "jurno", right?


    #WordOfTheWeek

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 7:12am

    It's hilarious to watch Mike, who doesn't follow any of the basic journalism rules, to complain about somebody else's journalistic skills. Always tearing down, always telling us how smart he is, always telling us how dumb everyone else and everything else is, but never discussing things positively and never building. Sad

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    Trails (profile), Feb 8th, 2013 @ 7:31am

    Re:

    Yes! Sing the truth, sister! I also noticed he still refuses to debate you...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 7:33am

    Re:

    Except when Mike fucks up with facts, he corrects his articles as soon as possible (while keeping the original cross out so people know where the error was) and admits his mistakes.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    Gwiz (profile), Feb 8th, 2013 @ 7:42am

    Re:

    ...who doesn't follow any of the basic journalism rules...

    Huh? According to Wikipedia these are the "rules" you are talking about:
    ...most share common elements including the principles of truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability as these apply to the acquisition of newsworthy information and its subsequent dissemination to the public... [emphasis mine] Source

    It's been my observation that Techdirt does these things far better than the traditional media outlets. It's one reason I come here every day.


    ...but never discussing things positively and never building. Sad

    Again, huh?

    https://www.techdirt.com/blog/casestudies/

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    Baldaur Regis (profile), Feb 8th, 2013 @ 7:57am

    Re:

    Newspapers print retractions and corrections all the time (usually in 6 pt font buried on page 5, as a rule). Major print media, however, seem to have a willful blindness regarding all things internet - a belief that if something is not on paper, it can't be real...and so the internet is just something A/V jerks have made up, like Beatle haircuts or moon landings.

    Working the internet beat for WaPo must be similar to having to cover pet fashions.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    sporkie (profile), Feb 8th, 2013 @ 8:23am

    Please stop trying to debunk this story

    and let the train wreck continue. Eventually the pressure will build up on this one to the point where something explodes. It will probably be someone from within the service provider industry having a complete meltdown over how this will end the universe as we now know it due to loss of revenue.

    If this allowed to run far enough, one of our congress critters will pick upon it and try to actually create some legislation. This could result in the start of a meaningful discussion on human rights and how unfettered access to information plays into that.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    DOlz, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 9:31am

    And Donnie Graham continues to piss on his Mother's legacy.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Feb 8th, 2013 @ 10:19am

    Re:

    Except, no, it doesn't sound like it could.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Sean Polzer, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 12:17pm

    WP Free Wi-Fi Video

    That video also incorrectly states that cell phones operate at 4GHz. I'm guessing somebody didn't know what 4G means.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2013 @ 2:30pm

    Re:

    You need help, AJ.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
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    freudflintstone, Feb 15th, 2013 @ 11:18am

    The Post is generally useless when it comes to making errors in its reporting. You can't even count the number of errors it has made since 1992 on one hand let alone both.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
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    nucAmbiguous, Feb 23rd, 2013 @ 8:06pm

    Amazing nonsense

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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