Who can you trust to hold up our journalistic standards?
So, it’s OK to verbal someone so long as you don’t put the words into
inverted commas?

Apparently that’s the best defence Greg Sheridan can come up with almost two
weeks after Crikey exposed his shameful misrepresentation of an on-air
conversation with Radio National’s Sandy McCutcheon in his March 18 column.

Read Sheridan’s defence at the bottom of his column.

Even worse for a journalist, Sheridan went on to break an “off the record”
agreement he had with McCutcheon’s producer (it was all off the record Greg)
and then seriously misrepresented that exchange – at no time was any
concesssion made that McCutchon had erred as Sheridan reports in his column
this morning.

Sheridan brought this all on his own head, and by his stubborn refusal to
apologise for what might have been dismissed as nothing more than a
regrettable error, is fast shredding whatever credibility he has outside the
loyal circle of neo-con true believers who read his column.

This incident stands in stark contrast to editorial standards being applied
on the other side of the Pacific, where the New York Times has annouced a
new policy to deal with factual errors on its opinion page.

It was put together by editorial page editor Gail Collins and annouced by
public editor Daniel Okrent in his latest column – read it here.

In her policy, Collins makes it clear that columnists must be allowed the
freedom of their opinions, but insists that they “are obviously required to
be factually accurate. If one of them makes an error, he or she is expected
to promptly correct it in the column.”

Under the policy, corrections are to be placed at the end of a subsequent
column, “to maximize the chance that they will be seen by all their readers,

In short it means that opinion columnists are to be “subject to the same
corrections policy that governs the work of every other writer at The

All well and good, so why are similar policies not applied by Australia’s
leading broadsheets? Certainly they are not at The Australian as proved by
the Greg Sheridan verballing incident.

On Monday night Media Watch joined the criticism of Sheridan who, after
putting his own words into the mouth of McCutcheon, went on to attack Robert
Manne and Lateline’s Tony Jones in an attempt to make his case that
Australia’s liberal elite lack curiousity about the motivations of al Qaeda.

Before Media Watch took up the case, Sheridan had been taken to task on
substantial issues in the column by Crikey, Manne, Jones and ATB executive
producer Gerald Tooth. At last count, that left one “the” and two full
stops in the column that have not been called into question, making it one
of the most comprehensively bollocked columns of recent times.

We now know that Sheridan will not do the right thing, and is attempting to
brazen it out, but what of his page editor Tom Switzer. In the US,
journalist are regularly sacked for fabrication, most notoriously Jayson
Blair (NY Times) Stephen Glass (of the movie fame) and in recent days Jack
Kelly of US Today.

Only Sheridan’s harshest critic would argue that this is a sacking offence,
but serious issue of journalistic standards are at stake here, not just for
the man himself, but for his newspaper.

Over to you Tom?

Subscriber feedback:

Hello Colin Columnist

I have no history in this affair, only coming across it in today’s
crikey email, and have not much knowledge about whether the critics are
right or not. Nor do I particularly care whether a left or right
perspective is the ‘correct’ one.

However, there appears to be a certain amount of fixation on the
‘letter of what was said’ rather than the ‘spirit of what was said’, in
the criticism being put forward. I base this purely on the Media
Watch transcript – which (to my ignorant mind) appears to support
Sheridan’s general line of argument – if not the actual words used.

From the transcript on the Media Watch site, McCutcheon effectively
said that he didn’t agree (and didn’t know of anyone else who would
agree) that the war was over and had moved into peacekeeping
mode. I gather this was in response to Sheridan’s claim that
Spanish troops had only moved in during the peacekeeping phase.

It seems clear that McCutcheon dismissed Sheridan’s statement – and
without a huge amount of tact. Was McCutcheon’s tone ridiculing
in nature? I don’t know – didn’t hear it – but that could easily
explain the ‘ridiculous’ statement.

Best regards and keep the columns going.


Right-wing commentators are not always right

Greg Sheridan’s inaccurate verballing of anyone who disagrees with his
views is typical of The Australian’s foreign affairs reporting today.

It has ceased to be a useful medium for accurate and intelligent
discourse and has become instead a wholly self-indulgent, routinely
biased and far-right of centre Op-ed column, which simply offers him a
chance to promote his invariably flawed views without any balance of
left, centre or centre-right opinion beyond his unseemly infatuation
with the odious Bush Administration.

It is hard to see how repeated attacks on those he sees as his
ideological opponents and promotion of now discredited (and always
dubious) neo-conservative dogma (such as the idiotic doctrine of pre-
emptive warfare), fulfils the expectations we have for Australia’s
national daily broadsheet, or is even worth the precious seconds spent
reading such drivel.

Manly, NSW