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NPR Retracts Story 'The Man Who Spent $100K To Remove A Lie From Google' (npr.org)
401 points by jessaustin 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 269 comments



According to NPR's own standards, it is unethical to remove erroneous stories.

> “We are guided by a newsroom policy that says it is inappropriate to remove content from our Website. If a report is inaccurate, we will correct it and state why it has been altered. If relevant new information emerges, we will update or do a follow-up story.

> “But our content is a matter of public record and is part of our contract with our audience. To simply remove it from the archive diminishes transparency and trust and, in effect, erases history. This is not a practice engaged in by credible news organizations or in line with ethical journalism.”

http://ethics.npr.org/memos-from-memmott/how-to-explain-why-...


They didn't "simply remove it", they replaced it with 1,300 words explaining what the problems were with the story and why the story did not meet their standards, hence the retraction.

The guidance you cite is a suggested response to third parties asking to remove embarrassing information from the Internet. It doesn't apply in this case; the story was retracted not because it was embarrassing, but because the reporting did not meet their standards of fairness.


Yeah, I think there's a big difference between unpublishing and retracting. Simply making a story disappear is a common way of hiding a fuckup. (Also, sometimes a way of making a difficult person go away.) Retracting is admitting the mistake.

I'd like this a little better if they had some way to access the old material in a fashion that made it clear it was withdrawn. But I think this is way better than just leaving the old story up in a form that might be harmful to people. I'm strongly influenced here by Wikipedia's "Biographies of Living Persons" standard, which is much stricter than that for articles on other topics: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Biographies_of_livin...

For those curious, the Wayback link is here: https://web.archive.org/web/*/https://www.npr.org/2018/04/03...

Edit: Actually, user Buge found the real archive link here: https://web.archive.org/web/20180403204501/https://www.npr.o...


There are four options here

1. Leave the story unchanged

2. Publicly retract the story, but keep the text available with a disclaimer.

3. Publicly retract the story and "unpublish" it, i.e., remove the text from the website.

4. Silently unpublish the story.

Everyone agrees that #1 and #4 are very bad. ColanR is claiming that #2 is better than #3, and in particular that #3 conflicts with existing NPR policy. We are inferring NPR policy from an informal blog post, not some official document, which was written in the context of third parties requesting that content be taken down. However, it is quoting an AP Editor policy that is not in that context.

You can argue that NPR didn't intend to endorse this policy in the context when they were the ones who messed up, rather than it being a complaint involving a third party. But then it seems rather hypocritical.


I think the issue here, and perhaps the deciding factor between 2 & 3 is that the original story names the "alleged author" (basically of the villain of the story) and my read of the retraction is that they can't confirm that the person named as the villain is, in fact, actually the bad guy.

So you can have option 3.5 and keep it published with names removed to protect the "could be innocent" or retract the entire story as they've done.


Your intermediate solution of wiping just the names is not necessarily my preferred solution (I'm honestly undecided), but I endorse it as strictly better than removing the entire text from the internet.


I feel you are correct.

But also wanted to add another option between 2 and 3 where I feel a more valuable editing could also be done.

2.1: Publicly retract the story, and edit the previous text (with visible or not removals/edits) along with a disclaimer, to improve the content and present a fairness assessment of it's text for new and previous readers.

I've encountered this before, with both visible (highlighted or striked off content) or completely deleted parts with some "erroneous/unverified content deleted" kind of indication, and I really appreciated the transparency an understanding why something was reviewed.

I feel that would be a valuable approach to these kinds of publications.


The problem with this approach is that search engines and other bots have no eye for context. Keeping inaccurate content online, even with a retraction up top, can result in confusing search results and even the propagation of the original inaccuracy. NPR can make efforts to make the correct content appear to search engines and other bots, but it can't guarantee that search engines or bots will get the right net content. When there's a question of fairness, it seems to me it's best to remove the potentially unfair content, especially when it's so potentially inaccurate.


There is this simple trick called a redirect that solve the problem.


Are you worrying that people will do a Google search, see a result that says "Retracted Story: Man Bites Dog", and then go on repeating this as if it's true? Like, of course, that's possible, but they could get false information from a million other places. Anyone can lie on the internet.


Personally, I'm not worried about a human reading it, but I am worried about a machine reading it and ingesting "facts" about me because they don't know what a retraction is.


Of all the ways that machines can and will misinterpret information on the internet, stories labeled "RETRACTED" are the least concerning.


Yeah, but do the guys making ML models at the credit rating agency or immigration agency know or care about that? I think the parent poster has a point here, who audits these models and their systematic errors (biases)?


Imagine John Doe was named as the owner of the site, and he is not in fact connected to it at all. When people search his name, the top 20 results are this incorrect fact.

No one is repeating it like it were true, but the man's reputation is harmed and he could sue. Maybe he did sue in fact.


Yes, I agree. One way to do this, which works equally well for stories with minor corrections as those that are fully retracted, is to just make the entire edit history publicly accessible. Then the "up-to-date version" of a full-blown retractions would be the retraction notice and explanation, while leaving the original version(s) of the article available.


I clicked through to the AP's memo and I don't really get the impression that the guidance is limited in the way you suggest.

http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.apme.com/resource/resmgr/online...


They should replace it with a story about how people and entities manage to dupe reporters into pushing their agendas..


When I load that page, I don't see 1300 words. I see only an editor's note of ~200 words. Are they A/B testing their retraction?


No, likely a mistake. It's 200 words, but 1300 characters.


Nope. It sure was responding to "third parties asking to remove embarrassing information", but the policy that NPR pointed to (and that I quoted) is more general than that. See what I quoted above.


I don't think you can just say "nope" here.

It's pretty dubious to take that quote completely out of context and apply it to a different context.

Why should we accept your claim that the policy "is more general than that"? Just pointing back to the out-of-context quote does literally nothing to back that claim up.

I'll just note, what they did passes the sniff test... if you forget about interpretations of their policies, how they handled the retraction looks strongly ethical to me.

It seems likely you're simply misunderstanding their policies, doesn't it?


> If you forget about interpretations of their policies, how they handled the retraction looks strongly ethical to me.

But don't you agree that it would increase transparency to leave the original text available on the website with a large disclaimer that the story was retracted and NPR no longer endorses the text?


I agree it would increase transparency, but at the cost of further damage caused by the bad story.

E.g., https://techcrunch.com/2013/01/24/study-finds-that-we-still-...

Damage has already been done, since it appears that retractions have limited effect, if any. But removing the bad story at least means new people won’t stumble across it and be misled.

It’s a balance and personally, I think they made the right choice.

If it were me, I’d feel better if there was an indirect and obscure way to retrieve the original story. Perhaps in this case there’s an archive that severs the purpose? If so, great. Of course it would be much better if no mistake had been made, but sooner or later mistakes are always made. You only find out the character of a person or organization by how often mistakes are made and what the reaction is.


Then prevent them from easily stumbling across it, but don't prevent them from accessing it in any form.


It's interesting how this relates to the "right to be forgotten." Some interpret that to mean that the content will still exist, but will not be indexed by search engines.

If so, then we are evolving into two Nets, the searchable one and the - what? - one you have to follow links into? Links with grave warnings on them?

I'm not sure this is entirely bad but it's weird. Will we also have pirate offshore search engines that ignore robots.txt and refuse to deindex?

Also see: the internet archive of things they aren't allowed to show because of robots.txt


I agree that these issues are closely related, and one people's opinions on them will be correlated. However, much of the time we can find solutions that will almost everyone happy, e.g., removing just the name of individuals from retracted stories (an idea suggested by someone else in this thread). Importantly, almost no one thinks the mistakes of the newspapers have a right to be forgotten, or more precisely, that newspapers have an defensible interest in erasing the details of their errors and leaving only a summary (written by themselves!) describing the error and declaring a retraction.


Maybe, but transparency isn't the only important thing. People can ignore disclaimers, and continue to quote the article out if context. Many people wouldn't check the source, and some that did would skip past the disclaimers and find the quote was accurate.


We can prevent actual accidents by making sufficiently obvious disclaimers. The fact that some individuals can willfully ignore disclaimers seems like too weak (and too convenient) a reason to expunge stuff completely. Anyone who is willing to quote from a retracted article without mentioning the retraction can always just lie instead.


People willfully ignoring context is what this entire sub-discussiom is about. Making that more difficult is beneficial, and I haven't seen your case for why more transparency would be beneficial. They've been clear on their actions, and they aren't making efforts to scrub the web clean of the past. What benefit is there to their continued hosting of something they've found to be wrong?


If a newspaper makes a mistake, they have an enormous degree of flexibility to paint their reporting in less negative light if they can just summarize what happened. Like, would you be satisfied if they just wrote "This story has been retracted"? Or what about "This story has been retracted because we didn't interview the person maligned"? The best way to ensure that readers can understand all the mistakes that happened, and thereby update their opinion of the newspaper/journalist, is if they can see exactly what was said.


>If a newspaper makes a mistake, they have an enormous degree of flexibility to paint their reporting in less negative light if they can just summarize what happened

But they can't do that, after the newspaper is printed you can find a copy of it with the original story, likely at the library. Similarly, copies of this story are still available online, just not on the NPR page. The equivalence of your suggestion in a newspaper would be their printing the entire story again in the next edition with a retraction, and I assume you could see how that could cause confusion.


> But they can't do that, after the newspaper is printed you can find a copy of it with the original story, likely at the library.

This only prevents them from giving outright false summaries. It does not prevent them from casting things in a more favorable light. Only a tiny subset of readers will use the library or archive.org, and they won't be able to say NPR lied.

> The equivalence of your suggestion in a newspaper would be their printing the entire story again in the next edition with a retraction

This would only be fully equivalent if the pre-digital newspaper printed every story in their archives every day. The closest analogy that exists is [new content]=[today's print paper] and [online archives]=[previous print newspapers]

That said, the online archives don't have a perfect analog in the pre-digital world. But importantly, they are simply not meant to represent a collection of only true statements. They are rather a record of what was said when. Note, for instance, that newspapers do not expunge from their online archives all stories that end up having false statements or implications through no fault of the newspaper (e.g., government officials lied or criminal convictions were overturned). Retraction is about admitting journalistic fault for the record.

Now, we can separately make arguments that individuals should be able to have false negative information about themselves removed from (easy) public access, a la the right to be forgotten. (In the current case, this could be accomplished by simply censoring the name of the subject of the article while preserving the rest of the text.) But this is a completely separate justification (which unavoidably pits the rights of the individual to not be defamed against the rights of the public to be informed) from the argument that all retracted stories (even those that defame no one) should be expunged from the online archives.


>This only prevents them from giving outright false summaries. It does not prevent them from casting things in a more favorable light. Only a tiny subset of readers will use the library or archive.org, and they won't be able to say NPR lied.

This is the state of things, huge errors in headline stories are retracted in the following issue with merely a line saying they were wrong. There have been examples of people getting an innocent verdict incorrectly labeled guilty in the story. If transparency is your goal, the story calling them guilty should be reprinted with corrections noted. That would be more transparent, but would not be beneficial to anyone.

>that all retracted stories (even those that defame no one) should be expunged from the online archives.

Again, I do not wish the story expunged from online archives, and it does not appear NPR is doing anything like this. Removing it from their personal archive is a different matter. Leaving it up provides more transparency, but provides no benefit. The error made is clear enough in the retraction, suspicious parties can still see their full error should they want to, and their erroneous story is not causing additional issues by being spread.

This system can absolutely be abused, but as the archive exists it would be easy to tell when it was. Your proposed change allows for a different kind of abuse, also easy to detect, and opens the door for confusion to cause issues. Hell, the only positive you can name is it allows people to easily judge mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable, they need to be judged for their malicious actions, which is still possible in this system.


> This is the state of things, huge errors in headline stories are retracted in the following issue with merely a line saying they were wrong.

I agree, this is the state of things for most newspapers (which I'm criticizing), but not, for example, for science journals.

> If transparency is your goal, the story calling them guilty should be reprinted with corrections noted.

Again, that would be sensible only if the entire archives were reprinted each day. There are economic limitations for print newspapers that make this infeasible. But if it were the case that print newspapers could feasibly re-printed their entire archives each day, then yes, I endorse them leaving the disclaimed erroneous story in those archives, to be re-printed each day.

That's not the same thing as re-printing the disclaimed erroneous story on the front page.

> >that all retracted stories (even those that defame no one) should be expunged from the online archives.

> Again, I do not wish the story expunged from online archives, and it does not appear NPR is doing anything like this. Removing it from their personal archive is a different matter.

Sorry I wasn't clear. When I write "online archives", I mean NPR's online archives. I am not talking about archive.org or similar.

> suspicious parties can still see their full error should they want to

I would agree that this was the case if the majority of internet users knew what archive.org is. In fact, I bet that less (probably much less) than 5% do. Thus they are effectively hiding the erroneous story from almost the entire readership.


It's not that simple. According to the obmudsman, the story was basically incomplete,

https://www.npr.org/sections/ombudsman/2018/04/12/601650762/...

it's one of the most basic things in our profession, that we gather responses from the people who are the subject of criticism

the reporter... did not seek comment from the individual identified in the story

NPR learned of the mistake via an email from someone who said he was representing the person NPR had identified as the "author."

At this point you might expect a correction with the new information from the third party added to the original story, but that won't work here.

In order to fix the problems, we would have essentially had to construct a different story," a process that he said would have been "intellectually dishonest. There comes a point that you can't fix a story appropriately

By analogy, sometimes the best thing to do is roll back code instead of trying to fix it.


The fact that the story can't be repaired does not rebut the ColanR's claim that deleting it is inconsistent with NPR's stated policy.

Furthermore, the best policy would be to retain a complete edit history of the story online, which is obviously possible even if the entire story is retracted. Given that the edit history would include a clear statement that NPR no longer endorses the claims made there, I can't see a reason for not making the edit history public other than reducing embarrassment of NPR.

That said, NPR is far from the only major news organization that declines to keep the edit history public.


> The fact that the story can't be repaired does not rebut the ColanR's claim that deleting it is inconsistent with NPR's stated policy

The point is very simple: removal != retraction. Removing without retraction is erasing history. Issuing a retraction is not erasing history.

And obviously, in this context, "erasing history" means the thing it means in standard vernacular English. Not the thing it means in git terminology.

> Furthermore, the best policy would be to retain a complete edit history of the story online... I can't see a reason for not making the edit history public other than reducing embarrassment of NPR.

1. How does showing the edit history reduce embarrassment to NPR?

(e: Ironically, if reducing embarrassment were their goal, they would've found a way to keep the story as in-tact as possible. "Look, we weren't 100% wrong. We just had to change a few paragraphs". IMO a full retraction is far more embarrassing than trying to weasel out of it by keeping as much of the story in-tact as possible.)

2. Some real downsides to this approach are already debated down-thread.


> The point is very simple: removal != retraction.

Exactly. NPR should retract the story -- that is, admit mistake and add a clear statement that they do not endorse it -- but they should not remove the text from the internet. The policy ColanR quotes says content should not be removed, and everyone agrees that content can be retracted.

> Removing without retraction is erasing history. Issuing a retraction is not erasing history.

But issuing a retraction and and removing the text is (an attempt to) erase history in standard vernacular English, i.e. make it difficult for others to figure out what happened in the past by hiding evidence. It's true that silently removing the story is even worse, because it erases the history of the article's existence rather than just erasing the history of the article's content.

> 1. How does showing the edit history reduce embarrassment to NPR?

You misunderstand my claim. Showing the edit history would increase embarrassment for NPR.

> Ironically, if reducing embarrassment were their goal, they would've found a way to keep the story as in-tact as possible.

This is not true if the error was so egregious that it couldn't be defended with a straight face. Given the constraint that the story must be retracted (i.e., un-endorsed), it is clearly more embarrassing for them to leave the retracted text online than to remove it from the website.

> IMO a full retraction is far more embarrassing than trying to weasel out of it by keeping as much of the story in-tact as possible

You misunderstand. None of us think they should weaseling out of it. I am comparing what they have done to the better procedure of (1) retracting the story (in the sense of declaring that it is flawed and not defensible) but (2) leaving the text of the story publicly available with a disclaimer.

> 2. Some real downsides to this approach are already debated down-thread

This thread has dozens and dozens of comments, many of which are flawed, and I'm not sure what you're referring to.


I think the problem is that a link that says “RETRACTED: jessriedel is an axe murderer” has the potential to do more harm on an ongoing basis, both ethically and legally (as in, a court might see this as contributing to ongoing damages in a libel suit).

The best thing for both parties is to remove the original text and post a retraction notice explaining what used to be there and why it’s now gone.


If this were NPR's real motivation, they would just censor the subject's name.


> "erasing history" means the thing it means in standard vernacular English

I'm a native speaker of English and I'm not sure what that means.


> the policy that NPR pointed to (and that I quoted) is more general than that

I think the salient point is that there's a huge difference between a silent removal and a public retraction. The practices that NPR indicts in your original post obviously refer to the latter. Removing without retraction is certainly an attempt to "erase history". Publishing a public retraction and discussing it at length is not "erasing history".

NPR's executives have even explained why, in this particular case, they chose to remove the article: Turpin said, "In order to fix the problems, we would have essentially had to construct a different story," a process that he said would have been "intellectually dishonest. There comes a point that you can't fix a story appropriately." He said the decision was not made lightly; "we believe strongly we don't want to disappear material for any reason if we can possibly keep from taking it down."

edit: Essentially it's the difference between a ghost edit and an "edit: I changed xyz in my post". Do you really believe that silently /dev/null'ing an article is equivalent to a public retraction?


"Mark Memmott, NPR's standards and practices editor, would not comment on the retraction. But he told me he could not recall another retraction since he joined NPR in 2009. (We did turn up a 2002 story that was eventually taken out of distribution, following a previous Ombudsman's column.)"

https://www.npr.org/sections/ombudsman/2018/04/12/601650762/...

Either this is a rare corner case in journalistic ethics that could be handled a few different ways or there's simply some disagreement in the profession (and among NPR staff) about how to deal with it. Regardless, the comments below characterizing NPR's retraction of a shoddy story as "Orwellian" are... entertaining, I guess? If only they'd save us from the tyranny of the state by relaxing their professional standards a bit.


Exactly.

Shoddy journalists would respond by doubling down. Attacking the people who question the original story, producing concurring stories and publishing them on sister sites, and then citing those stories in followup stories on your own site. Pushing the narrative and ignoring the truth at all costs.


Reminds me of Gawker. Sure don’t miss those clowns.


Well, an (overly flexible) reading of that policy is that they won't simply delete a story from their website without a trace, but will allow themselves to replace the story with an retraction and explanation if the story is so flawed that it can't be fixed. (You'd have to make the dubious interpretation that "content" refers to the story as a whole unit, rather than the divisible text.) In fact, this is really the only interpretation consistent with the practices of NPR and many other new organization (e.g., NYTimes) of making repeated edits to stories without leaving the old versions online; instead they simply note that edits have been made, and summarize them. It would be weird if they could freely delete wrong statements from an article but not delete the entire text of an article if the entire text is unjustified.

Of course, I agree with most HN readers that the most transparent, ethical, and self-consistent policy is to keep a complete edit history of the story available.


Is removing content the same as disallowing it in a robots.txt? Because they have an interesting article [1] disallowed in their robots.txt that was added a while after it was published.

[1]:www.npr.org/2013/03/21/174840895/sexual-violence-victims-say-military-justice-system-is-broken


> Is removing content the same as disallowing it in a robots.txt?

No.

> Because they have an interesting article [1] disallowed in their robots.txt that was added a while after it was published.

Oddly, it's a different seemingly benign story for me:

        Disallow: /sections/health-shots/2013/03/11/173816690/new-voices-for-the-voiceless-synthetic-speech-gets-an-upgrade
IDK why they include a seemingly random story in their robots.txt. I don't think the intention is to hide the story, though.


I get the same link as you in there. I wonder if this is some honeypot technique for detecting misbehaving robots?


Thanks for posting those references.

There are clearly at least a few different problems going on here in NPR and the general workflow of top-tier journalism today. If you can publish a story, you shouldn't just be able to retract it willy nilly. If you can retract anything you publish, then what's the point of having standards for publication in the first place?


So did they completely remove it, so you have to find an archive site to read the original mostly-accurate story?

Wow, both archive.org and archive.is' oldest snapshots are of a notice that the story is hidden pending editorial review. NPR may have purged this from the Internet pretty darn well.

Makes me wonder who really called them about it.

EDIT: rightos managed to find the original story on the archive.is page from another website: https://archive.is/QxQtZ

Generally a retraction is in the form of a note that the top, not attempting to purge a story from existence over a minor technicality.


A correction/editor's note is usually in the form of a note. A retraction is exactly that -- a story being retracted, i.e. pulled from view.

According to the retraction note, this was not a minor technicality. The reporter failed to talk to the other party in this story (the purported author of the malicious website) and apparently mischaracterized the nature of the website.


> A retraction is exactly that -- a story being retracted, i.e. pulled from view.

This is not true. Retraction means you withdraw endorsement of the story and cease to publish new copies of it. It does not mean you pull it from view. Likewise, retracted scientific papers are not expunged from the websites of scientific journals. See for instance this:

http://www.jbc.org/content/283/45/31012.full

You can tell infer that this is the correct use of the term "retract" because daily newspapers retracted stories long before the internet, when it was obviously impossible for them to do anything besides removing endorsement and admitting error.


In many English dictionaries, "retraction" can mean either a disavowal/withdrawn endorsement, or to take back/withdraw.

Paper newspapers had no physical way of doing the latter without literally pulling every copy in existence, which would be impossible once it's been released (as you also pointed out). Because of that, you can't really infer the correct use of the term based off what they did. Furthermore, languages evolve, so even if that was the only "correct" use of the term back then does not mean it's also the only use today.


I'm happy to agree that none of this should be held up by a dispute over mere semantics. And I agree that languages evolve, and is used different but consistently by different communities at different times. But let me just note that since most scientific journals and some newspapers use "retract" to mean disavowal without textual removal, clearly describing whatever NPR and the NYTimes are doing requires an additional word (or at least a modifier). The term I've heard used sometimes, and which I think is clear, is "unpublish" (but this is not standardized).


"Retraction" in publishing usually doesn't mean "removing from view. Also, Google's dictionary doesn't mention "view".

https://www.google.com/search?q=define+retraction

1. the action of drawing something back or back in. "prey are grasped between the jaws upon tongue retraction"

2. a withdrawal of a statement, accusation, or undertaking. "he issued a retraction of his allegations"

In traditioal practice, it means "Adding a Retraction tag". In CS terms, it's a soft-delete.

For a very famous example:

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6...


The traditional practice you're referring to, in traditional publishing, has been around for centuries. It was very difficult/impossible to physically retract a printed article. But had that ability been there (and it probably has in limited cases) it's not hard to believe that given the option physical retraction would have been the preferred option. The Internet now allows us to go the preferred route.


The "purported malicious website" is a trivial element though: This is a story about how hard it is to get something removed from Google. That story is still accurate, and still deserves to be public, but has been purged from the Internet nonetheless.


No, the story was about one businessman's purported difficulty in getting something removed from Google. For all we know, the difficulty was because his grievance was not as clear of a case as the original story claimed.


When I read the original story, I thought it was a story about a guy who made a business and the story was basically free publicity for his business. The fact that they retracted the story makes me think that the person's claims were overblown and he was just trying to get free publicity for his business


is it ?

There is a big difference between trying to get accurate or false information removed from the web.


Interesting.

Joy Ann Reid is recently in hot water for lying about hackers inserting homophobic blog posts in to the archive.org record of her old blog. She has now requested that archive.org stop serving archives of this blog.

I wonder how frequently mainstream media scrubs old version of stories from archive sites.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/claims-by-joy-reids-cybersecur...


Its common for political parties in the UK to delete old content / speeches.


Mainstream media gets attacked for not doing enough fact checking, but also gets attacked for removing incorrect stories. I guess there's no way to win.


Removing stories completely is akin to hiding the fact taht you failed in your journalistic responsibilities. It would be better for the integrity of the journalist if the story remained available with the details of the failure plastered above/below etc.

Don't erase your mistakes - own up to them.


If your story unfairly libels someone, particularly a private individual, that presents its own ethical challenges, doesn't it?


Not at all. One could do as NPR has done in this case: Remove the original story and replace it with a statement of why it has been retracted. Nothing is hidden, and the incorrect story is removed.


I guess my concern is someone looking you up and the results being dominated by results like "Joe Smith, 55, of 22 East Wessex St, caught stealing from orphans" being a problem, even if clicking through shows a correction rather than the original story.


It is owning up to the mistake - hence the published retraction.


Being an authority on truth is a challenging role that requires caution and responsibility.

Doesn't mean we should throw the baby out with the bathwater, but we should hold journalists to a high standard - journalistic standards have weakened in the past decade with the rise of clickbait and promoting partisan editorials as news.


Agreed, but journalism and journalists are meanwhile being facetiously attacked as "#FakeNews". And I don't think we should hold journalists up to a higher standard than elected officials; or, to be accurate, I don't think we should allow either journalists or elected officials a low moral and ethical standard.


Get it right the first time.

If you can’t, don’t pretend to.


Especially with software, right everyone?


Even the atom bomb was tested at least once.


But not in production.


The first two atomic bombs in production were considerably different designs from each other, and there was only one test explosion before those two, so doesn't that mean that at least one bomb was in fact tested in production?


No bugs ever made it to production.


There is a very easy way to win. Do not censor stuff. Own up to your mistakes and failings. Be responsible for what you publish. Maybe that is a foreign concept to modern "journalists".


What do you want NPR to do in this case? You may think they deserve mocking scare quotes around their profession, but these are real journalists trying to fix a mistake following industry guidelines.


Here [1] are NPR's own published guidelines on why they will supposedly not remove stories:

>"We are guided by a newsroom policy that says it is inappropriate to remove content from our Website. If a report is inaccurate, we will correct it and state why it has been altered. If relevant new information emerges, we will update or do a follow-up story. But our content is a matter of public record and is part of our contract with our audience. To simply remove it from the archive diminishes transparency and trust and, in effect, erases history. This is not a practice engaged in by credible news organizations or in line with ethical journalism."

[1] - http://ethics.npr.org/memos-from-memmott/how-to-explain-why-...


Wow good catch, you may want to share this as a top-level comment.


Found it from another comment (that is top-level): https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16943135 Quite damning!


Yes, I'm sure modern journalists are all wrong and you're right.


It's still on archive.org . Apparently NPR started forwarding to a new URL after doing the retraction.

https://web.archive.org/web/20180403204501/https://www.npr.o...

I got the original URL from the original HN post https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16752468


I wonder if this will have the Steisand Effect.. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect


I'm not sure it applies. Streisand effect is more when one person/group wants to publish something and another more powerful group wants it hidden, people want to root for the underdog. In this case they're both the same group. When the original group says they made mistakes, it sort of taints how much people value it.


I wonder if archive.org/archive.is wills soon be running afoul of EU laws.


No, because the only thing the EU is gunning after is how easy it is to access the information. Easy to access though simple google search? Needs to be removed. Only found through searching through archives? Not a problem.


Why would there be a distinction between two different search services just because one is using a historical database?


What happens when the search engine indexes the archive?


Do they have offices in EU? The US has very strong freedom of speech rights. EU's are weaker. So it makes sense for them to only be based in the US.


Excellent find! Good catch.


Generally where? I went to check if that was the case for scientific journal, and I was shocked to see how easy it is to see full-text of a retracted article. There are "RETRACTED" tags scattered about, but it's still easy to grab a page of bad text. I'd expect the whole document to have some sort of marking on every horizontal line or as a watermark.

https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms6446


Usually on the average news blog I've seen retractions in the form of "we didn't realize this author was paid by x and it doesn't meet our standards of integrity" notices, followed by "original article below".


Do you have any examples? A "retraction" is not just a synonym for "massive correction". It literally means to withdraw something.

Some recent notable examples of retractions; in all cases, the story was completely pulled:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/26/business/3-cnn-journalist...

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/05/23/statement-on-cove...

http://www.newsweek.com/alt-right-trump-franken-mueller-twit...


This is indeed common practice in journalism (but not science) when retracting a story, but it's not synonymous with "retraction". Indeed, daily newspapers before the internet often "retracted" stories when they clearly couldn't change how many copies were available. This is why the term "unpublish" has been introduced in the age of the internet.


> I'd expect the whole document to have some sort of marking on every horizontal line or as a watermark.

Why? Do you think anyone is at risk of not noticing the huge warnings on each page? What is the point of erasing the text?


So what's the real story here then? Was the alleged lie actually true? Or was NPR just unable to verify whether it is true or not?

Many people held up this story as a justification for the "right to be forgotten", but if it turns out that even a respected news agency can't figure out whether censorship was justified in this case, I think it rather supports the case against censorship.


There are so many problems with the story. It's fairly embarrassing for NPR.

Besides being a one-sided story, it's also obvious PR for Ervine's new company, which is dutifully linked at the end of the story.

Secondly, the story presents Ervine as the heroic protagonist. An interesting choice for someone that turned in his middle-eastern clients to the FBI because they took a cab and didn't talk like typical rich people. Ervine's response to this is to hand over all of his client's private information to the FBI, without a warrant, after which his client is jailed and deported.


> An interesting choice for someone that turned in his middle-eastern clients to the FBI because they took a cab and didn't talk like typical rich people. Ervine's response to this is to hand over all of his client's private information to the FBI, without a warrant, after which his client is jailed and deported.

So he suspected someone was breaking the law and reported them to the appropriate authorities? Or are citizens supposed to always cover for criminals unless and until the government gets a warrant?


Probable cause matters. Taking a cab and being foreign is not probable cause for fraud.

He ended up being correct, but that’s posthoc justification.


The fact that he turned someone in and they "turned out" to be guilty makes it very likely that we just don't have all the information here. Certainly not enough to condemn an accuser that was right.


Are citizens required to follow rules of probable cause before reporting someone to the authorities?


You didn't read the original article. He claimed to be being picked up by his chauffeur. According to this guy anyway.


You are very mistaken about the legality here. Probable cause only matters to law enforcement agents. It has no bearing on private citizens.

The private citizens rights to seize property, turn it over to LEOs, report someone, conduct a search, do not change if they have probable cause to believe a crime has been committed. So, if I'm your boss and can legally read your emails, I can just turn them over to the law enforcement agencies no question asked – they're "my" emails after all.


I know right? Those rich people are not assholes! They must be criminals.

EDIT: /s It ended up he was right, but maybe he had no reason to actually know they were cons. We don't have the full story, which is exactly why it has been retracted.


Only fairly rich people can do this. They know the proper people to ask, to get the proper phone number for the proper "private investigator" who continuously bribes the proper FBI agents in the proper field offices and the proper assistant prosecutors in the proper districts. Lots of money changes hands, the proper evidence is entrapped or manufactured, and then the poor unconnected schlub who pissed off the wrong rich dude is carted off to federal PMITAP. Typically the rich dude then has the requisite noblesse oblige to let it go after simply ruining a family. However, in some cases he's a real asshole, and objects to Google linking to the poor schlub's complaints about his mistreatment...

I dare you to call the FBI the next time you have a business disagreement. You won't even get past the phone bank.


> I dare you to call the FBI the next time you have a business disagreement

I have a friend of humble means who, in response to an incident, filed a police report, sent copies to the public e-mail addresses of our state's responsible regulators and then packaged that correspondence and sent it to a field office's public mailing address. The response was quick, courteous and effective.

You're launching baseless conjecture.


How many years in federal PMITAP did your humble friend's business rival get?


Do you have some references for this conjecture? This all sounds very "tinfoil hat" for me. Like, sure, what you suggest is totally plausible-- but is it not a stretch to just assume this is a commonplace thing?


I personally know people to whom something like this has happened. No I won't share their stories here. Every time the general public learns more about FBI, it's always more sordid and awful. Remember this is the house that J. Edgar Hoover built. Those who care to notice, have received notice.

Mostly, though, search your recollection: have you ever heard of anyone who isn't really wealthy doing what Ervine is reported to have done?


I have to say I laughed outright at the whole "taxi-cab -> call the FBI" thing. That was kind of mad.


So he did the wrong thing by reporting someone that was then convicted for fraud? It's not like he sentenced and deported them. He reported someone that was committing fraud.


No, he reported someone for, essentially, not being stereotypically rich. The person happened to be committing fraud, but that doesn't mean his initial report was justified based on what was written in the original article.


The person was alleged to have been committing fraud according to the now retracted story.


Did he break a law, or did he just do something that you personally disagree with? I don't really understand the criticism here.


> But NPR did not contact the alleged author. Upon review, NPR cannot say for certain who the author or authors were or what their motivation was. In fact, in court proceedings, the people listed as "staff editors" of the site were identified only by initials, and we have not been able to establish their identities.

It sounds like they tried to get the other side of the story and got nowhere. Makes sense given that, if the NPR story is even generally accurate, it is not in the other side's interest to corroborate it (they are accused of slander). And given that the other side is geographically pretty far away from the US, it could be hard to get anything solid.


If they had tried to get the other party to comment at the time of writing the original article I think that would be fair enough, but they didn't. Apparently after the story was published they were sent an email from

> someone who said he was representing the person NPR had identified as the "author" [of the purportedly slanderous website]

and then they retracted it. (https://www.npr.org/sections/ombudsman/2018/04/12/601650762/...)


If that’s all that happened, they could add “x declined to comment”.


Good luck understanding the whole picture when everybody is so fucking keen on censorship! I'm fed up of this. Censorship is never the answer. Publish a correction. Publish a retraction. What the fuck is this!?


It's simple, many people are fine with censorship as long as they're in charge of what should be censored.


I think it's slightly different. They're fine with censorship of ideas they disagree with.


Why wouldn't you censor ideas that you know are false, harmful or both?


Lots of people think they know ideas are false, harmful or both, even though they don't. Take any belief you think is objectively false or harmful, and there'll be plenty of people who think it's objectively true and good.

So making censorship acceptable is pretty dangerous. It just favours whoever is currently in a position of power.

And I tend to think it's counterproductive to censor ideas. You can't stop people from believing them, and trying to censor them can increase divisions between groups. Argument and education seem better approaches in general.


Because you might consider it immoral?


My thinking is that if you really think that an idea is false or harmful or both, you would feel morally compelled to remove that idea. That is, morality is often the first justification for censorship.


No, when I think that an idea is false or harmful or both, I feel morally compelled to present the reasons I think that as clearly and cogently as possible in an effort to provide additional information both to the person presenting the false and/or harmful idea and anyone else who might be observing the exchange. Censorship is inherently immoral.

My hope is to persuade others that the initial idea is false and/or harmful, not to prevent others from hearing the bad idea.

If I succeed, the bad idea still exists, but others can understand why the idea is bad and recognize similarly bad ideas in the future.

If you simply censor the bad idea, at least two bad things happen as a consequence: 1) the bad idea is not refuted, and so is likely to be reintroduced later with fewer people who understand why it is a bad idea; and 2) the person who originated the bad idea does not have any reason to change their mind, but rather is more likely to resent being censored and so hold that bad idea more tenaciously and attempt to spread it more surreptitiously.

I am frankly frightened by this relatively recent promotion of the idea that preventing the public utterance of bad ideas and distasteful speech is good for society. Based on my understanding of history, it is, in fact, a precursor to totalitarian society.


While I do agree on the social harm of censorship, unfortunately your approach is susceptible to asymmetric info-attacks under adversarial conditions.

Specifically, under the condition where the debate actually matters, your compulsion can be exploited by putting out any number of variedly wrong ideas, for which you pay an asymmetrically higher cost to refute, and an opportunity cost of not being able to present ideas of your own.

The debate can this way be framed to either never reach "consensus", or to do so at the counterparty's favored position.

The widespread use of this strategy is a reason why society is falling back on censorship as opposed to reason.


This thread is surrealistic to me in light of the NPR retraction. They didn't retract the article because it was some fringe opinion they didn't stand by, they retracted it because it was factually wrong. It would be as if they published an article saying "water is a yellow gas" then later removed it saying "actually that was a load of crap, nevermind".

So instead you'd prefer if they had kept the original article but added after each sentence "except it probably didn't happen that way"?

>I am frankly frightened by this relatively recent promotion of the idea that preventing the public utterance of bad ideas and distasteful speech is good for society.

There's nothing recent about that, it's as old as humanity itself. Every culture has its taboos and its sacred cows. I don't think there's any society where you could say absolutely anything you want and stay out of trouble. The USA is extremely permissive but there's still slander, libel and hate speech at the very least. In most countries in the EU it's forbidden to be a nazi, that's an opinion you're simply not allowed to have.


> This thread is surrealistic to me in light of the NPR retraction.

I was responding to the statement that bad ideas should be censored, not to the actions taken by NPR. I actually agree that NPR did the right thing by retracting the false information. That is a very different thing from censoring bad ideas. So yes, the thread derailed off into the swamp and here we sit on the wreckage.

> In most countries in the EU it's forbidden to be a nazi, that's an opinion you're simply not allowed to have.

Yes, I know. I studied Nazism in depth during my undergrad years while earning a history degree. I still recall being nauseated for an entire semester because of the material in one particular course, in fact. The downside of restricting political thought is that those who create the restrictions generally become tyrants themselves.


I fully agree.


Sorry, my pronoun might have been unclear. I'm saying that you might consider censorship itself to be immoral.


That's the real crux of it, isn't it?


Does it even make sense to talk about censorship if you remove your own content? If you delete your comment are you censoring anything?

If you think that NPR shouldn't have made the original story unavailable I see your point but I really fail to see how that's censorship, especially when they pinpoint precisely why they did it and how exceptional it is.


> Publish a retraction. What the fuck is this!?

...this is a retraction?


It looks like them publishing a retraction. Who do you feel is censoring them in this instance?


You are not the same person as a year ago, it is perfectly possible for a person to try and censor their past opinions.


I would really appreciate more information from NPR on why the story was retracted and what, specifically, was wrong with the story. NPR's statement mentions that the site that was allegedly defaming Jefferey Ervine was never contacted and that the author of that site was maybe not really the author and they weren't contacted either. In fact, reading through the retraction, I was left with the suspicion that the _only_ person that NPR talked to was Jeffery Ervine himself.

Jeffery Ervine is now the president of Bridgit.com which... Well, even after looking at the site it's not clear to me what they do. It kind of sounds like they work with schools to combat bullying[0] and there's a page on the site covering the same material as the NPR piece.[1] But the NPR piece does end up spending a lot of time on Ervine and the story wraps up with a plug for his new company.[2]

Without more information from NPR, my first thought is that Ervine mis-represented his story in an attempt to drum-up publicity for his new company and NPR was sufficiently embarrassed that they have removed the story from their site. Bu that's just me guessing, since this retraction has practically no useful information.

[0] http://www.bridgit.com/about/#whybridgit

[1] http://www.bridgit.com/jeffrey-ervine/

[2] https://archive.is/QxQtZ


1. spread lies that being rightly forgotten by google costs over $100k and get branded as an expert

2. start a company that offers a $50 form submission for $50k. a killer deal based on lies from #1


Wow, a full retraction!

I'm holding back on the kudos for NPR's editorial accountability until we get some context.

The subject of that story was a hedge fund guy who didn't like the search results appearing for his name and the legal expenses that went into trying to change them, the piece was sympathetic to him and it was framed as a story about 'net privacy and the lack of regulation around it, but of course it wasn't about privacy it was about censorship, two concepts that are too often conflated nowadays what with publications falling all over themselves trying to extol EU regulations.

The bottom line is that the so called "right to be forgotten" is as nonsensical an expression as it is a policy.


The EFF opposes the Right to be Forgotten. Some of their staff talked about it at Defcon two years back. In too many cases it simply leads to censorship.

Freedom of speech, and its implementation by the Supreme Court in the US, makes this kind of legislation impossible.

There are trade offs. Even if you can afford to get your criminal record expunged, data collection firms can still hold a copy of your record while it was public; so it can still show up on some background checks.

We need to move away from the stigma of lifetime labels more than we need to be able to erase the past.


A rare occasion where I disagree with the EFF: There might be many cases where people want to get inconvinient truths censored but the right to be forgotten is necessary in an internet where lies are spread just as easily, where the media (look at you yellow press) are quick to print a suspects name before they've been convicted. We are not just talking criminal records or data collection companies.


I don't know why criminal record checks aren't treated similar to a credit bureau report. There is a legal time limit as to how long a bad debt or bankruptcy can stay on a report, as the people who wrote the credit reporting laws recognized that people can change. But a criminal record, even for a minor crime, lives forever unless explicitly expunged.


I would assume it's because of intent. Companies want to give you credit, they just use your credit report to determine the likelihood of your future creditworthiness. They've determined that after 7 years your previous actions aren't indicative of future behavior.

Background checks on the other hand are serving their intended purpose, telling you exactly what someone's background is.


I think the intent of a background check in the context of employment is also to predict future behavior. An employer really shouldn't care that an applicant was busted for drug possession in college fifteen years ago - there's little change of reoffending, and the crime isn't super relevant to the performance of most jobs. On the other hand, if an applicant for a position at a hedge fund has a conviction for securities fraud three years' prior, you would not want to hire that person.

I think there's an argument in favor of requiring criminal background checks for employment to be run through bureaus that have a legal requirement to drop certain offenses off the report after a certain amount of time. The offender has repaid their debt to society through the punishment meted out by the court, there is no point in making them unemployable for the rest of their lives.


One reason for the difference, at least in the case of very serious crimes, might be that bad debt is often either due to bad luck, or due to mistakes on your part that you learn from and are much less likely to make again.

For example you might get laid off during an economic downturn and not be able to find a new job in time to avoid missing payments. A few years later, when you have gotten back on your feet and caught up on everything, there is not much reason to believe that you are a bad credit risk.

Or maybe you don't appreciate how big an impact high interest rates on credit cards can have when you carry a large balance. You can easily learn from this and not make that mistake again.

If short, as you note people can change, and in the case of bad debt there is a good chance that they have done so after a few years. And if they haven't, they will probably have newer bad debt on their credit report to take the place of the expired items.

Compare to a very serious crime, such as child molestation. You don't do that because of bad luck or poor judgment. To do that you have to be seriously broken mentally, and modern medicine does not yet know how to fix that level of broken. You are very likely as dangerous 30 years from now as you are today.

In short, except in rare cases the people who do these kind of crimes do not change. They just learn to be more careful to avoid getting caught.


I'm not talking about serious violent crimes like child molestation or aggravated assault or murder. Those sorts of things should show up forever.

I'm talking about things like petty theft, drug possession/petty trafficking, and impaired driving. Those are crimes that people can change from.


Good luck getting that expunged from a background check then - even worse that even tuppenny ha'penny Jobs in the USA require background checks.


Some countries do expire some convictions on the public criminal record legally available to an employer. And consider it a violation on employment law for an employer to source gray market date when hiring.


The problem with criminal records is that when they get expunged, they are only expunged from the government's records. Third-party aggregators and background check agencies can retain them.

TRTBF is closer to regulating the latter.


Again, that would be similar to a credit report - here in Canada, for example, the bureaus are legally mandated to not report certain credit events after a prescribed amount of time. A similar rule could apply to background checks for employment, where certain less serious offenses have a "sunset period" where they fall off the report.

The trouble with court records is that they are public, and for good reason (the justice system needs to be transparent). Unfortunately, the internet has made what used to be a process with a significant barrier to entry (a manual court records search) into a simple google search. The problem is exacerbated by extortionists who post mugshots (many of people who have their charges dropped) and charge a fee to remove them [1]. Regulation which enforces some level of right to be forgotten may be a solution.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mug_shot_publishing_industry


> We need to move away from the stigma of lifetime labels more than we need to be able to erase the past.

I signed in (been years) to comment. Bravo! I could not agree more. People can change.


Privacy requires some censorship. For example, a law that makes it illegal to take certain photos lacks teeth without a corresponding law that restricts publishing them.


What's with all the "teeth" comments lately? who's pushing that agenda?

We enjoy great constitutional protection to publish, unless it's copyright violation or you're revealing the allied plan for the normandy invasion no court will rule against you.


There typically aren't criminal charges, but civil penalties for publishing private information do abound. Whether or not that constitutes censorship is a matter of semantics.


A newspaper? fined for publishing? no such animal.


You must be unaware of what happens when photos of minors are published without parental consent.


What happens, exactly? In the U.S., AFAIK, there is no law preventing taking and publishing photos in the newspaper of minors or others in public spaces without prior consent.


You can Google it, but school districts across the country have created bans on publishing pictures of students and those bans are enforceable by law.


Gawker?


The discussion of the retracted story: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16752468


Think I found the full text of the original article hosted on another site too. Archived mirror here:

https://archive.is/QxQtZ


Thanks, I saved a copy before someone manages to find and purge this too.


I am confused why NPR removed the story instead of adding this correction to it. It seems that this revelation only makes the story more interesting, given that it's about a con-man.


Removing the story is the correction. They no longer consider it a valid story; that it is now more interesting is not relevant to the ethics.


I had to visit like 3 different sites to understand the whole story. I feel like NPR got caught up in this scam. They should use the opportunity to investigate how this happened instead of burying it.



> NPR's standard procedure in cases of errors is to make a correction, not remove a story entirely, as was done in this case.

Glad to hear that the ombudsman raised the same issue I am raising here.


Maybe they are in the midst of such. It would be a good story.


This American Life did an entire episode about correcting one of their earlier episodes when they found out that the individual had made up many of the details. Honestly, the retraction episode was better than the original one:

https://www.thisamericanlife.org/454/mr-daisey-and-the-apple...


I actually went and emailed the NPR Ombudsmen (who posted a short thing about the OP that someone else linked to in these HN comments) suggesting they do such a follow-up story.


This is not what burying a story looks like. This is publicly owning up to your mistakes and trying to correct the record.


But they published it. They should not remove it. Publish a correction. Removal is not acceptable.


Do you mind going into more detail here? Why is removal not acceptable? If someone was slandered, why is it better to leave that slander in place with disclaimers? If it's better from the perspective of journalism, does that conflict with what's better from the perspective of not being sued?

There's an interesting tension between this argument and the ostensible topic of the original story, "the right to be forgotten". [0] Does Ervine really have a right to see that personal criticisms of his conduct are removed from the Google? Does the person who criticized him have a right to see a one-sided account of his life removed from NPR? I almost admire NPR enough to suspect that they're doing all this as an exercise in ironic criticism (which the ombudsman linked elsewhere attempts to lampshade), but I can't quite get there.

[0] "Ostensible" because the original was mostly a clumsy, credulous submarine for a toxic rich dude's latest scam venture, along with some additional knife-twisting on some poor immigrant the rich dude had gotten sentenced to federal prison.


> Why is removal not acceptable?

Because once published, you must stand by what you published. Accept your mistake. Put a big notice on it saying how sorry you are and how much more careful you will be in future. Hiding it is running from it.

> If it's better from the perspective of journalism, does that conflict with what's better from the perspective of not being sued?

It's all about how much these "journalists" respect their own profession. If I commit a horrible bug, I don't go and purge it from github using --force. I leave it there as a reminder and acceptance of my mistake.


The difference is that the existence of your bug in source code form harms no one. But the existence of an unethically reported story, even with a correction, can cause real harm. Using your analogy, your proposed correction would be to leave the bug in production, but give some "Hey, sorry, we made a mistake" message.


If they kept the original story with a huge correction/retratction notice and all associated details, anyone who read the original could find it again.

As it stands now, anyone who doesn't happen to catch this will have no way of finding out in the future that the story they read may have been partially or wholly false.

I don't like the idea of erasing history this way.


> existence of an unethically reported story, even with a correction, can cause real harm

Yes some professions have bigger consequences for mistakes. If you can't deal with it go do something else. Not an excuse for covering up your mistake. This is downright Orwellian.


First, "don't make mistakes" is a policy so idiotic in its conception that I don't think there exists a good-faith argument for advocating for it.

Second, a "cover-up" is when you hide evidence of your past misconduct. Pleading guilty in public is in every possible way the literal opposite of covering something up. If they'd just deleted the article with no commentary at all, that's covering up the mistake. Leaving the original URL up with a notice that they erred in publishing the original story isn't.


Except it eliminates so much context as to make the apology meaningless. Unless you knew about the existence of the pre-delete story, all you know is that the story used to be one thing, now it's "NPR fucked up".


I find it bizarre that you continue insisting that they are not owning up to their mistakes. They have clearly said the reporting was bad, their editors didn't catch it, and it's their fault. Removing the story is not "covering up." It is mitigating the harm they caused.


What? Retraction: the action of drawing something back or back in. If something is entirely incorrect and someone is trying to produce truthful content, admission and removal is entirely acceptable.

Besides, it very may well have been demanded by their legal department to avoid any repercussions from the mischaracterized party.


Right, but you definitely remove that line from operation, which is exactly what they did. Go to an archive site or glean more details from the ombudsman post. NPR's website doesn't need to be a VCS of every change to history, much like your production environment doesn't need to have the entire historical tree attached to it.


Why not?


No doubt many people read the original story. Those people will carry on believing the original story unless they are corrected.


How does the story being available or not change that?


Being available with a correction allows anyone who has seen it that shares it to another person, so long as the person told cares about authenticity, to go online and find out that in reality XYZ were incorrect about the story. Removing it from history either allows the prior person to spread misinformation to those that will not research it, preventing them from correcting the person telling the story or learning the truth on their own.


If they don't remove it then redditors will link to it and confuse readers for years to come. At least they should put a banner at the top saying it's retracted.


Knowledge is power!

By presenting us the full-picture, we can potentially guard ourselves in the future.


But NPR is asserting that its story was fundamentally flawed. Leaving it as is, even with a massive correction note, implies that the story has some worth, when in actuality it may be completely misleading because of the lack of reporting.


It does have worth. It is a warning to them to not publish stuff not fully vetted. Removing the article makes everything else vapor. It diminishes the worth of everything they publish.


You believe that the lesson is forgotten, even though the content of the retracted article is now several paragraphs describing the errors that led to the retraction? How exactly is that not a warning to journalists in the future?


How do I know what the mistake was? I did not read the original article. There is no proper way for me to understand the issue. Yeah I can go look up archives people took before they purged the article, but that is besides the point. NPR has hidden their mistake. They have made it impossible for a reader to fully understand the blunder they committed. It doesn't help anyone. It certainly doesn't inspire trust in their journalistic capability.


Why bother publishing first-hand sources of history? Because new meaning or insight can possibly be gleaned from them.


Because there is something called professional and human integrity. Own up to your mistakes. Accept responsibility. Do you force push a fix whenever you merge a buggy commit? I would hope not. I describe my mistake, and what I am doing to fix it. But what is done is done. Hiding it is just being unfaithful to your profession and in this case, to your audience.


The very first paragraph of the retraction notice:

> Editor's note on April 11, 2018: NPR has retracted the story that was previously on this page because it did not meet our standards. "Fairness" is one of our guiding principles, and to that end we have pledged to "make every effort to gather responses from those who are the subjects of criticism." In this instance, that did not happen.

So how does this not count as owning up to mistakes and accepting responsibility?

Your analogy with a git commit/`push --force` is flawed. In software, the end user is not at risk (without much deliberative effort) of running the buggy commit. In journalism, the article content is the actual end user product, and grievously erroneous content causes actual harm. Moreover, the mistakes that NPR admits to making were not just a "buggy" commit. It was the equivalent of checking in malware from the very first commit.


Agreed. Re-write the story as it should have been done. Then do an additional article that walks us all through the process, what was changed, and why. Not only would that be transparent, it would (read: should) give more people a better idea of what (real?) journalism is (or should be).

Perhaps redact some of the original to avoid legal issues. That makes sense.

Welcome to the age of "the un-article"?

That aside, I'm surprised / disappointed there's not a better CMS to handle such things. Couldn't / shouldn't - within reason - news articles be more fluid, in the sense time exposes more facts, etc.? The static story model made sense for print. There was no other choice. I would think technology could do better at this point.


The articles on most major newspaper websites these days indeed evolve after first publication. The text you are looking at at any given time isn't necessarily the exact text that was there a few hours ago, or at first publication. But they don't really tell you that or give you any way to see history.

On nytimes, sometimes you get a note at the bottom of a web article "This article, with slightly different text, was published on page X of the Y print edition." I can't find an example now so that's paraphrasing from memory.


At least with newspapers, you can spend some effort and money to track down the original printed piece. Web-only articles are going fully Orwellian! And the NPR no less!


They need to implement a git diff...


Perhaps he is litigious and they don't want the hassle, or their lawyers told them he has a case.


> Turpin said, "In order to fix the problems, we would have essentially had to construct a different story," a process that he said would have been "intellectually dishonest. There comes a point that you can't fix a story appropriately." He said the decision was not made lightly; "we believe strongly we don't want to disappear material for any reason if we can possibly keep from taking it down."

https://www.npr.org/sections/ombudsman/2018/04/12/601650762/...


Am I too late to point out that they have an article about sexual violence in the military[1] disallowed in their robots text[2]. I noticed this last summer and can't find a reason why, using Wayback Machine you can see it was added a while after publishing.

[1]: www.npr.org/2013/03/21/174840895/sexual-violence-victims-say-military-justice-system-is-broken [2]: www.npr.org/robots.txt


Those are some interesting exclusions, yeah:

"" Disallow: /2013/03/21/174840895/

Disallow: /sections/ombudsman/2008/01/frequently_asked_questions_1.html

Disallow: /sections/health-shots/2013/03/11/173816690/new-voices-for-the-voiceless-synthetic-speech-gets-an-upgrade ""

Removing something from search engine result pages but not from archives seems like a middle ground that media organizations might consider when people say "I regret having talked on the record about this, can you remove it?" or when they say "hey, this is hurting my reputation and it's not a big deal, can you please make it harder to find?".

I used to periodically poll The Harvard Crimson's robots.txt which until a 2015 site redesign used to exclude a lot of articles from search engine results. One example of an article excluded from search engine results for several years was http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2006/10/31/news-in-brief-s... , which also carries a lengthy editor's note with more info about the final disposition of the case and which I think I can see why the article subject might not want to affect their reputation.

Among the other things that the Crimson's web site excluded from search results included -- drug arrest stories where the final disposition was "not guilty" and the final article was not hidden (but the original arrest and intermediate reporting were); some deeply personal sex columns; maybe an unruly party story; a story about a grad student being rude at a football game.

I wasn't always able to find the articles -- one older piece of content, article id 523203 in their old-style format, was probably published in the print edition on 22 April 2008 based on the publication dates of article ids 523202 and 523204.

The Crimson seems to have stopped doing this and most media organizations don't do it; while excluding an article from robots.txt usually makes users' search engine results calm down, sometimes it can have the opposite effect by broadcasting exactly what in the archives people do not want to be seen.


Yes, others have already pointed out this entirely unrelated and boring configuration mystery about a 5 year old story.


It's not boring


I read the original retracted story linked elsewhere in the comments: https://web.archive.org/web/20180403204501/https://www.npr.o... But has anyone found the site that Jeff Ervine tried so hard to get removed from Google? This whole things sounds pretty interesting and part of me thinks that maybe NPR discovered the lie that was removed was partially true. Many are wondering why they would take down the story rather than publishing a note stating it was retracted. Maybe the same litigious Jeff Ervine is suing NPR to remove this story or preventing a correct version of the story from being written?


It's actually quite impressive that NPR will retract a story over what would be standard practice among the bottom half of the media.


I think NPR, since they are publicly funded, they hold themselves to a higher standard than the rest of the media. You can see it in the last sentence of the “under review quote”: “the highest standards of public service in journalism”


They also have a really interesting way of dealing with bias. "Tell the truth".


One can still paint a biased worldview for their viewers in choosing what to and, just as importantly, what not to report on.


By definition, bias isn’t about truth or fiction, but the selection of subject matter and emphasis. Editorial decisions are, by definition, biased.


Oftentimes I try to look for the fairness of the presentation of issues. Bias is unavoidable, and most articles will include some degree of interpretation of the information. NPR, and even far more strongly opinionated publications like the Economist, at least give a generally accurate representation of both sides of an issue. This type of journalism is exceptionally far removed from the Brietbarts and Huffington Posts of the world.


Even the best organizations are reluctant to challenge the narrative expectations of their audience: the audience pays the bills. For example, nearly all economists agree that rent control generates unfair outcomes. Yet, the papers in SF almost never discuss this. Why? Because it would challenge the prevailing expectation of their readers.

As an aside, I'm an enthusiastic reader of the Economist: it seems as if subscriptions are better incentives than clicks for journalists by reducing pressure to generate clickable headlines appealing to baser instincts. Sadly, fewer and fewer publications will survive. BTW - the Washington Post's news content has gotten a lot better under Bezos. I scan it every day now.


I disagree, the dictionary definition is:

> an inclination of temperament or outlook; especially : a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment : prejudice

And

> systematic error introduced into sampling or testing by selecting or encouraging one outcome or answer over others

The first one implies falsehood. In that the data itself is prejudiced.

The second one is manipulative of the truth. Which you could argue also makes it false, since you have a falsely representative sample, where you claim not too. Thus you are lying to the reader, because you know things you don't want to tell me, since they would change the outcome, and disprove your prejudice.

So I feel your statement is only true, in that you can claim all samples, even massive ones, are naturally biased, and only an omnipotent creature that would know 100% of all the variables could be unbiased.

But that seems counter productive to me. We're not looking for absolute truth, but statical truthyness.

If an editorial presents all the data the author is aware of. And the author did reasonable due diligence to find most of the data availaible on the matter. Then its a truthful and unbiased editorial. Which allows you to make your own conclusions.

Saying all editorial is biased is dismissive, and it enforces the notion that, you'll never know the truth, thus just keep believing in your prejudice, they're as good as anytjing else. Which is false, statically, your prejudice is less likely to be true.


Editorial selection and emphasis introduce bias, where over a long term, it is hard to determine the truth. This doesn't mean readers should only trust their prejudice as you suggest in your final sentence, but that readers should be aware that they are getting an editorialized version of reality.

Let me give you an example (hopefully avoiding a debate on the topic): are pit pulls more dangerous than other dogs? First to be clear, I have no dog in the race (ha-ha). Local newspapers write stories covering dog attacks, mentioning the dogs were pitbulls. My friend who does pit bull dog rescue points out that papers only cover pitbull attacks, and never attacks by other breeds. By only covering pitbull attacks, editors and writers have biased the general public. At this point, I don't know the truth: are pit bulls more dangerous? Do editors consider writing stories about attacks by other breeds at all?


That's just part of it, a very common form of bias is representing options as facts.


It's all propaganda. NPR is targeted towards people who like soft voices with their manipulation.


"Truth" is not an antidote to bias. Evidence is.

Consider a few headlines:

> "Trump Embroiled in Battle with Mueller"

This gives the impression both parties are at odds. It gives the impression that the battle is fierce and ever-present on both parties' minds.

> "Trump Shrugs Off Partisan Attacks"

This gives the impression that the probe is no big deal to Trump and just standard political maneuvering from one side.

> "White House counsel, Mueller Meet on Russia Inquiry

States the facts of the story. Doesn't really imply anything.

All three headlines can be true simultaneously.


Those are statements of different facts so it's not clear how any of these represent bias.


You really can't imagine the last event reported under either or both of the first two headlines? Lots of high school sophomores have more media savvy than you claim here.


No serious news organization would ever describe the Mueller investigation as a 'partisan attack' in a headline. So this is not an example of 'factually true reporting that nevertheless contains bias'. It would just be plain factually inaccurate reporting.


This took less than five seconds to locate:

"Hannity: Mueller's investigators are partisan hacks" [0]

Sure, maybe Fox isn't "serious", and maybe Hannity isn't the most serious "journalist" on Fox. Still, this is a headline published by a news organization. You don't watch them and I don't watch them, but my grandmother watches them five hours a day, and she isn't the only one.

It is hilariously revealing that you object to the second headline rather than the first. Even if subconsciously, you know you've seen that first headline published by your favored media conglomerate.

[0] https://video.foxnews.com/v/5669316591001/#sp=show-clips


Hannity isn't a journalist. That's not (merely) a jab at him; it's something he himself has said on multiple occasions. He's a talk-show host; an entertainer. He explicitly does not not believe he's bound by the conduct standards of journalism.


I don't understand your point at all. The headline attributes to Hannity. Yes, Hannity said that, the headline is factually correct. The headline the poster proposed is not and no real news organization, not even the news part of Fox would use it.


The point is simple: Trueness is on a different axis from slant (or perhaps: spin). Something can be neutrally presented and bullshit, or slantedly presented and true.

Ideally, in this four-quadrant space, most news would stick to the true/neutral space, the others to be avoided as hard as possible. We both know that doesn't happen.


Talking smack about quadrants and media savvy highschoolers is certainly simple. Coming up with a relevant example to illustrate your point: that seems surprisingly less simple. The differences between factual and non-factual, direct statement and quote, hyperbole and metaphor: curiously elusive!


There's a very good one given upthread. Same event, all three headlines true, but two are slanted in different directions and one is just a recounting of facts.

Hyperbole and metaphor have no place in headlines.


All three headlines are not true. That's the whole point. It's supposed to be an example of something but gets it completely wrong. As to metaphor and hyperbole, again, there's a big difference between those two things - it's nigh impossible to write anything without using metaphor.


All three statements were written with the intent of describing a meeting between two sets of lawyers. I intentionally inserted baseless assertions and innuendo which can not be independently verified.

How can you independently verify the attacks are partisan? How do we know Trump "shrugged off" the attacks or that Trump is "embroiled in a legal battle". You'd have to ask him and he has every incentive to hide his true feelings!

If you feel my headlines are not good enough then I would encourage you to think creatively and conceive of ways a headline could convey both truth and bias.


You made up some headlines to illustrate some point but they don't, that's all. Maybe you do have a valid point but what you're describing doesn't support it at all.

How can you independently verify the attacks are partisan?

No news organization would describe the thing in that way because it's not factual. So that's an easy one.

If you feel my headlines are not good enough then I would encourage you to think creatively

I'm not inclined to think creatively to make your bad argument better. It's your job to make your argument not bad.


> Trump's three-front legal war turns on sex, money and Russia

https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/29/politics/donald-trump-legal-b...

Can you extract the hyperbole from the fact? It's not terribly difficult to see what is evidently true and what is innuendo.

Even if there were no headlines that matched the ones I wrote, my argument would still be valid. I'm arguing that "truth" is insufficient. A plain presentation of evidence is the only way effective way to combat bias. Though, it is not a panacea.


This is not a news headline, it's a piece of analysis (the original reporting it's based on is linked in the body). Although I don't see the hyperbole, let alone innuendo in it at all. Unless you consider the mere use of a metaphor to describe Trump's legal engagements to be some sort of innuendo.


> Although I don't see the hyperbole, let alone innuendo in it at all. Unless you consider the mere use of a metaphor to describe Trump's legal engagements to be some sort of innuendo.

The metaphor you're referring to is more accurately described as hyperbole.

I find it funny how far people will go to intentionally misunderstand one another. We could have a perfectly reasonable conversation on the merits of cold, impersonal, evidence-based discussion and on the roles of metaphor in speech. But instead we have to play this game where you insist on finding some fault in some argument that I never made. Or pretend when you do see faults that they're "mere uses" of colorful language.

So to put this terrible conversation to rest let me make three points:

1. I like NPR and I'm not in any way attacking them. If you're here just to defend your favorite publication -- you can stop.

2. It doesn't matter if the CNN article was a piece of analysis or reporting. It is disseminated to an audience with the intent to be read as news and because it is an official publication from a news source it is (by dictionary definition) news. Since you seem so obsessed by the designation.

3. My original point "'truth' is not sufficient to eliminate bias" has been left uncontested. It is the only thing worth discussing. You have chosen to focus entirely on fictional headlines meant to help you understand the core point. If the headlines confused you -- I'm sorry (in the most meaningless way possible) -- but you need to improve your reading comprehension before you waste someones time with idle criticisms.

I would encourage you to re-read this comment thread. I have tried now on three separate occasions to get you to understand the core point of the conversation.

Maybe you're at the end of this comment thinking to yourself "Well the news industry seems fine right now. I can't find any headlines to support his claims". I would encourage you to consider: blogs, youtube comments, HN threads, casual conversations, and internal dialogue. What I'm saying (truth is not sufficient to eliminate bias) applies to all aspects of human thinking.

I should have never linked that CNN article. I thought an example would help you understand but its clear to me that it only enables people to misunderstand.


The metaphor you're referring to is more accurately described as hyperbole.

But it isn't. It's a completely ordinary turn of phrase.

It doesn't matter if the CNN article was a piece of analysis or reporting.

That matters an awful lot.

My original point "'truth' is not sufficient to eliminate bias" has been left uncontested.

Sure. I'm contesting your ability to support that point.


You're not discussing this in good faith. You said "those are statements of different facts" when it's clear to anyone who has read a newspaper (you included) that they are different descriptions of the same facts. You have some trivial objection to any example anyone gives, but you have no examples of your own. Enjoy your weekend. Give peace a chance.


(EDIT: TL;DR: NPR consistently represents a more centrist pro market view that in the opinion of many more left leaning people is harmful to the well being of poor and other disadvantaged groups, and to the environment.)

Piling on to what others are saying, NPR may be truthful but they certainly tell their story from a pretty specific viewpoint. I find them to be very centrist and pro establishment. When Obama announced new internet surveillance laws under the guise of internet protection, NPR only really shared the views of the bill’s supporters. The EFF and others claimed the bill was harmful rather than helpful, while NPR on their story of the bill only said “critics claim the bill doesn’t go far enough”. If they only share the viewpoints of a bill’s supporters and misrepresent the views of critics, they’re not really representing the truth in my opinion. Similarly on a day after Bernie Sanders’s largest rally of his campaign at the time, when 10,000 people showed up to support him, NPR spent 8 minutes of the newshour on one of Trump’s tweets and various reactions (where they asked different people their opinions and read tweet responses of others), while only briefly mentioning Sanders by saying he had another couple of rallies (but not discussing or analyzing the scale or potential impacts of his campaign).

So before you congratulate yourself for how great your choice media is, consider the ways in which it falls short in serving the public good.


Agree, NPR is not very biased comparing to others but it is still very biased once a while, I used to listen to NPR each morning in the car, these days I can only listen to classic music radios or audio books. I gave up on finding any true neutral media outlets totally.

If I really need know something, I will read from a few left and right websites to make my own decisions. After a while I now feel Reuters are close to be unbiased, though I'm not 100% sure still.


I don’t think it’s possible to be unbiased. We all share our knowledge from the perspective of our worldview.


NPR is "publicly funded" in a colloquial sense (pledge drives, etc), but it is not significantly "publicly funded" in the sense of "funded by the government".

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NPR#Funding

»During the 1970s and early 1980s, the majority of NPR funding came from the federal government. Steps were taken during the 1980s to completely wean NPR from government support, but the 1983 funding crisis forced the network to make immediate changes. According to CPB, in 2009 11.3% of the aggregate revenues of all public radio broadcasting stations were funded from federal sources, principally through CPB;[37] in 2012 10.9% of the revenues for Public Radio came from federal sources.«


These standards are the same for most serious news organizations. NPR is not really 'publicly funded' in the way most things you'd typically call 'publicly funded' are.


Pulled from at least one affiliate site too.

http://tpr.org/post/man-who-spent-100k-remove-lie-google


Regardless of their reaction to it.. this line is key:

> "Fairness" is one of our guiding principles, and to that end we have pledged to "make every effort to gather responses from those who are the subjects of criticism." In this instance, that did not happen. The story referred to one individual as the "author" of a website that another person said had posted defamatory information about him. It also described the author's motivation as vindictive. But NPR did not contact the alleged author.

So NPR did NOT contact the author and then described their motivation. It's good that they retracted this article but how many times have they released similar articles with similar total disregard for the truth?


Url changed from https://www.imediaethics.org/npr-retracts-reporting-mistakes..., which points to this.


It points to this, but also includes important context. Perhaps even a better link, from NPR itself, would be the ombudsman's piece:

https://www.npr.org/sections/ombudsman/2018/04/12/601650762/...

The ombudsman (person?) blames various parties, but (rightly, to astute readers of the retracted story) starts with the reporter, Aarti Shahani. She screwed up, and NPR management aren't sugarcoating that.


Why would they? It's in their interests to blame the reporter. That's the one-bad-apple way.


Like you, I would prefer that the "three editors" to whom that link refers actually be named. I suspect that if the story had appeared without byline (kind of difficult with NPR's format, but e.g. Economist does it), the reporter would have remained anonymous even after the retraction. ISTM, however, that other organizations would have just thrown their source under the bus, like e.g. Rolling Stone with their UVa rape story. Perhaps NPR will do that eventually, but they haven't done so yet, to their credit.

HN prides itself on its wisdom and judgement, but we got this one completely wrong too. When the original story appeared, nearly everyone here swallowed every detail of this whopper completely, while the few who didn't (hint: me!) saw their comments downvoted to oblivion.


iMediaEthics.. what an ugly year 2000 name


I don’t think there’s a problem with their retraction. Shall the original story remain there, (and maybe also indexed by Google,) won’t that do exactly the same harm to the alleged site owner what the story claimed to had been done to the “victim”?

To unpublish the story may lose some informative and educational value for the public, but since NPR's notice is detailed enough to explain what happened, such value should give way to the protection to the wrongly-indicted site owner.


What strikes me is the NPR story is almost the exact same as this one published 3 years earlier... "Executive Wages a Painful Fight to Erase a Slur": http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/document.php?id=cqre...

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