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Response to msanthrope (Reply #39)

Sun Jun 16, 2013, 05:56 PM

55. That never happened. He criticed AJ for silently yanking Massad's article that they published.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/may/21/al-jazeera-joseph-massad-retraction

I spent much of the weekend emailing various Al Jazeera officials for comment, to no avail. Everyone either ignored my multiple inquires or said they were barred from commenting and referred me to the head of the outlet's PR department, who never responded. How can a media outlet possibly publish an Op-Ed, quietly delete it six days later in response to controversy, and then fail to utter a single word about what happened? Was there a fabrication or some glaring, retraction-worthy error in Massad's Op-Ed? Was it a mistake for Al Jazeera to have published it in the first place, and if so, who made that mistake, what was it, and why did it happen? Who made the decision to take the extraordinary step of deleting the Op-Ed, and what was the rationale for doing so?

No media outlet can possibly do something like this without publicly accounting for what happened and expect to retain credibility. How can you demand transparency and accountability from others when you refuse to provide any yourself? Refusing to comment on secret actions of this significance is the province of corrupt politicians, not journalists. It's behavior that journalists should be condemning, not emulating.

Media outlets do occasionally retract stories or even Op-Eds, but they then provide an explanation. Earlier this year, the Observer published a repellent Op-Ed by the British columnist Julie Burchill, which contained all sorts of ugly slurs against transgendered people (it was also published in the Guardian's online Comment is Free section). In the wake of intense condemnation, the Observer decided to retract the Op-Ed and remove it from the site. The paper's editor, John Mulholland, issued a statement explaining the retraction, and the paper's readers editor (the rough British equivalent of an ombudsman), Stephen Pritchard, then wrote a detailed account of what happened.

Although I condemned the original Op-Ed, I did not agree with the decision to delete it. For one thing, it's a futile gesture: in the internet age, everything published is permanent. For another, it's contrary to the journalistic ethos: although it would have been appropriate to decide in the first instance not to publish it, once a decision is made to publish something, it should not be removed merely because it provokes controversy or even offense. Retractions should be reserved for serious factual errors. But at least the Observer transparently explained its actions and provided an account of what it did.

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