Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Compensating for Reckless Reporting 2

Ian Ayres

Since my last posting on this, I have had some truly bizarre private conversations with journalists about the idea that the news media might voluntarily compensate people who they negligently injure.

One had the chutzpah to argue that journalistic ethics demands that they not pay for their mistakes. Getting out the news is too important to be chilled by the prospect of legal damages. It is almost with a sense of pride that he pointed to the tradition of never paying money.

But is it ethical to leave people that you have harmed uncompensated? Even if the law does not require it, doesn’t ethics require it.

And if getting out the news is so important, why doesn’t the media dessiminate information about the amount of injury that has gone uncompensated? Can it be that it is not newsworthy to find out and report how much people have been injured by media misrepresentations and left uncompensated? Isn’t there a conflict of interest in the newspapers choice not to pursue this kind of story?

Newspapers can’t indulge the fiction that they never print misrepresentations. Every correction disproves this hypothesis. But they continue to cling to the notion that there is no harm done – once a retraction is printed.

But mudslinging should always begin at home. Don’t bloggers and academic authors also misrepresent facts from time to time? Sure yes. Haven’t I injured people? Shouldn’t I have a duty to compensate if I was negligent in my representations?

Imagine a world where each correction included a statement from both the victim and the newspaper about how much the misrepresentation injured the victim (even after a correction) and that the newspaper has chosen not to compensate the victim. Stepping back, imagine a world where at least some apologies came with a price tag (even if the price were never paid).


Perfection is doing all that you could. And there's not a single thing more you can do.
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