Crikey editor Misha Ketchell writes:

Glenn Milne has
finally apologised for a phantom Latham quote that appeared in his
column last Monday, with this correction at the end of his column in
today’s Australian:

LAST week’s column attributed quotes to Mark Latham that
didn’t belong to him. Allow me to explain. The column was about an
address the former Labor leader gave to students warning them against
going into politics. I asked the New Limited library to send me an
article recording the event. Inadvertently, I was supplied with a spoof
piece, written in the form of a news story. The quotes came from the
pen of the satirist, not Latham. Nevertheless it was a mistake that
shouldn’t have happened.

Milne deserves credit for
coming clean and correcting the error, but the way this episode has
been handled reveals a worrying lack of rigour in the editorial culture
at The Oz.

Why did it take so long to acknowledge a serious error of fact when Oz
editor Chris Mitchell was made aware of it in the middle of last week?
Shouldn’t the record have been corrected immediately? And why did
Mitchell allow Milne to try and shift the blame to the News Limited
librarians? As one Crikey reader writes:

Am I the only person who thinks how disgusting it is that
Milne blames the News Ltd library for his Latham misquote? How slimy.
He only had to read it to realise it was a spoof. It was his
responsibility, and he should have taken it himself. If I was working
in the library, I wouldn’t be rushing to help him next time. I hear
there are some very unhappy campers in there.

Owning up
to your mistakes is one of the hardest things to do in journalism –
especially when you’re a player in hotly-contested political debates
and any admission of weakness is pounced on as a victory by your
opponents. It’s made all the harder by an “us and them” mentality at
the Oz under Chris Mitchell which – although it has produced
some impressive crusading journalism – has also allowed to fester a
begrudging and defensive culture.

Milne’s mistake was a substantial error of fact that required a quick and prominent correction. Oz readers deserved better than a mealy-mouthed attempt to shift the blame a week after the fact.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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