Phi Beta Cons

Something New Under the Sun

On Monday night, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the V-Tech killer was a 25-year-old Chinese national who came to the United States last year on a student visa. We now know that this information is wrong. The Sun-Times currently has an accurate news story about Cho Seung-Hui on its website. The old one, written by Michael Sneed, appears to have been removed, though it is described by another news outlet here. (We linked to the original story here, and it now sends readers to a story about Cho.)

I cannot find an actual correction or apology on the Sun-Times website. This strikes me as a rather significant blunder–a desperate attempt to be the first to report news that everyone wants to hear, and getting basic facts wrong as a result. And I’m sorry, but the Sun-Times doesn’t get half-credit because Chinese and Koreans are “Asian,” 25 years old is almost 23 years old, and a student visa is practically the same thing as a green card. The Sun-Times botched the story and botched it badly. In journalism, mistakes get made and many of them deserve forgiveness. Yet mistakes–especially when they aren’t minor–should be acknowledged, and it helps when the forgiveness is actually requested.
UPDATE: Sneed’s column this morning says this:

Sneed’s online report Monday afternoon stated the initial investigation led law enforcement authorities to a preliminary suspect, who was a man from China.
Details and a description of the preliminary suspect accompanied reports available to law enforcement agencies via a national network checking on possible terrorist activities.
We chose not to print the man’s name because authorities were still investigating. The results of ballistics and fingerprint identification had not been completed.

I guess that counts as a correction, but it feels more like a rationalization.

John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.


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