Bias Affects Story Updates on Political Weblogs

Recently, I noticed that several webloggers that discussed the suspected chemical weapons plant found in southern Iraq on March 24 weren’t mentioning those claims turned out to be false, even after the story was retracted revised on USA Today, New York Times, the Washington Post, and Yahoo’s front page yesterday.

I thought this particular example would be an interesting case study to study how bias affects story selection on weblogs. So I searched Technorati for weblogs that linked to the four most popular URLs (1, 2, 3, 4) about the chemical plant. Starting with a list of 148 weblogs spanning the socio-political spectrum, I located the relevant entry on each site and searched for followups or updates.

In brief, here are my findings. 112 weblogs linked to the original story, but didn’t follow up with another entry or correct their existing entry in any way. 28 weblogs linked to the original story, and later posted a correction or other addendum. 8 weblogs only linked to the story after it proved to be false, but didn’t link to it when the news originally broke. The complete list of categorized links is below. (If you have any corrections, please e-mail or leave a comment.)

If you look at the sites, it appears that conservative weblogs tended to only link the original report, liberal weblogs tended to only link to the correction, and mixed and group weblogs linked to both.

I’m not going to jump to conclusions with these results; they don’t necessarily imply bias from their authors. The followup article could be considered less newsworthy as the breaking news, for example, or it might be more a reflection of a reluctance to rehash a story that a weblogger has already covered. I would love to hear from any of the webloggers, explaining why they did or didn’t follow up with an update to the story. Any theories or interpretations of the data are also welcome.

And if you can think of a polarizing breaking news story that many left-wing, anti-war webloggers jumped on but later neglected to retract, e-mail me.


Linked to report, then later posted correction:

The Bayou City Perspective, Betsy’s Page, /dev/clue, frost.infara.net, Meme Cauldron, Just Your Average Catholic Guy, Man Without Qualities, Mutated Monkeys, The Noble Pundit, Lex Communis, Pilgrimage, pineappletown, Business as Usual, SCSUScholars, The Volokh Conspiracy, Bruner Blog, Cliff Alligood, The Command Post, The Review, Damn Fool Kids, Blog Left: Critical Interventions, Heretical Ideas, Jay Reding.com, MetaFilter, P.B. ALMEIDA online, rubberpants daily, RuminateThis, Tenorman

Linked to report only:

Mark Byron, alicublog, The American Kaiser, Arecibe’s blog of something, aucurrant, MidEast News Digest, The Devil’s Excrement, Secular Blasphemy, The Blogs of War, Brandeis Vanguard, brojuddblog, Burton Terrace, Wunderpund, The Canadian Loudmouths, Hoplites, NIME, COINTELPRO Tool, Cold Fury, Common Sense and Wonder, Country Store, courrges, The Crazy Write Winger, Curmudgeons Corner, Dfenestrator, Environmental Republican, In Context, The Second to Last Resort, ReligionOfPeace, Jason’s BLOG, JawsBlog, Jay Solo’s Verbosity, JunkYardBlog, Just a Pose, LIFE DOWN HERE, LilacRose, Little Green Footballs, Lotsanews, MBLblog, My Pencil, ONEBIGSWEDE, Oriental Redneck, OxBlog, peripathetic, PejmanPundit, PeoriaPundit, The Encyclopeteia, Linnwood Political, QuantumTunnels.com, Shouting ‘Cross the Potomac, The Real Geek’s Blog, Red Pony Dance, Life Akimbo, Rumination, The last, best hope for…, Stars and Stripes, Imperialist Crusader’s realm of Totalitarianism, The Plain Truth, Titusonenine, iamabrokekid Blog, haganah, Viking Pundit, Weekend Pundit, willtysse.com, Winds of Change.NET, Crazy Saddam.com, About the War, Christian’s Blog, Aged and Confused, Andrew Sullivan, War Watch, better.shorter, brendoman.com, BusinessPundit, Chris Blanchard, The Conjecturer, Meaningful. To someone., Dean’s World, Diablogger, uBlog, GlennFrazier.com, GOP by Generation X, Now That Everyone Else Has One, Airbag, HappyFunLand dot net, Howard’s Musings, Internet Ronin, The Daily Rant, Living Torah Journal, It’s all downhill from here, NextDraft, One Man’s Vote, Oregon Commentator Online, Peppermint Patty, Power Line, RENT-A-GURKHA.com, RobBernard.com, robertgoodwin.net, The Mind Of Man, sednobis, The Skeptician, Conflict in Iraq, Ulmablogger, Andi & Joe Szilagyi’s Weborama, Rule the World, the RANT, This Classical Life, Critical Section, Rat’s Nest, Yodelhead’s Funnies Page, damnum absque injuria, THE YANKEE HERALD, My So-Called Blog

Posted correction only:

The Link Farm, The Blowtorch Monkey Armada, Roger Ailes, Puri sermonis amator, The Vancouver Scrum, different strings, South Knox Bubba, skippy the bush kangaroo

53 thoughts on “Bias Affects Story Updates on Political Weblogs

  1. I followed up because I can’t always count on the mainstream media to do the same. Of the many who reported this story, few took pains to retract it. Not surprising from a country where over 50% of the people remain convinced that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq is responsible for the carnage of 9/11.

    Our embedded journalists are reporting the news that’s presented them by the military. That’s not discerning journalism. That’s public relations. Some might call it propaganda.

    The truth is most likely somewhere in the middle of the Iraqi and US spin. With embeds, the question becomes, “how do we find that middle?” I’m not so sure we can, given the model that media is forced to work with.

    I have a bias and there’s no getting around that. But the mainstream embedded media’s bias is not an admitted one, and that in itself is a diservice to media consumers.

  2. As far as why I posted a correction or follow-up at the Bayou City Perspective, it just seems appropriate to me. I can’t guarantee that my views and observations will always be correct, but I try to keep them as correct as I can from my perspective. Opinions are not static objects, or at least they shouldn’t be, and I’m always willing to adjust my thoughts based on new evidence. It’s just good journalism, imho, andalthough I don’t consider myself a journalist by any stretch of the imagination, accuracy is an ideal I feel we should all strive for.

    Also, as I stated in my correction, the fact that the reported weapons lab wasn’t a weapons lab after all doesn’t change the fact that I’m sure we’ll find WMDs in Iraq sooner or later. Anyway, even if we don’t, the burden of proof was on Saddam Hussein to prove it, which he failed to do.

    It seems you’ve done an impressive amout of research on this post. Kudos to you!

  3. Point taken-I posted an update with the USAT article. I’ve been busy this week and have been more church-conference-blogging than warblogging.

  4. Nice work. One clarification, though. Actually, I had mentioned both an original report from Fox News and the correction in the same post. I had been previously posting comments on many weblogs that were reporting the “discovery” before that, which is why I finally decided to post about it out of frustration.

    It appears to me that the whole story got started by an unconfirmed Israeli newspaper report that Fox reported without verification. Those two reports gained a momentum and life of their own, even though it was clear only hours later that the Pentagon was being “cautious” about the initial report.

    I have also posted and commented several times correcting numerous “Scud” missile reports, none of which have proven to be accurate.

    This does not mean that I don’t think Iraq posesses such weapons. I am just concerned that the media is going overboard reporting unverified information, and busy people (and bloggers) don’t take the time to “consume” the information critically or to check any other versions or sources. And to me this is very dangerous. As I have stated before it is how half or more of Americans surveyed believe that Saddam was responsible for 9/11 and that most of the hijackers were Iraqi.

    OK, then.

  5. I posted a correction just over an hour after the original post and you have me in the “Linked to report only” category. So, your results are flawed. I suspect you were so eager to prove your point that you skewed your results to your favor.

  6. Heh wait, I checked my logs. Even my original post was that this wasn’t confirmed, it was only suspected. My original post place doubt on the article. Did you actually read any of these posts before categorizing them?

  7. I only linked to this item with the term “chemical plant” (omitting the word “weapons”), noting that it “was up to such harmless works that: ‘The Iraqis tried to camouflage the facility so it could not be photographed aerially, by swathing it in sand-cast walls to make it look like the surrounding desert.'” That requires no “retraction” whatsoever, as it is true.

    In fact, the only stories which require “retraction,” I’d say, are those which come to a conclusion — “this is a chemical weapons plant” — that is later proved to be false. What was actually reported, though, was that the factory was “suspected” to have been producing chemical weapons. That remains true: the factory was suspected of producing chemical weapons. It now is not suspected of having done so since 1998. This is not a “correction” of the original story, but clarification that the suspicion has now been laid to rest.

    For what it’s worth, my blog is not a “newsflash” blog, and is more in the vein of commentary on politics, media and culture. I’m not a news source, so if I link to a report about a matter one time, I don’t feel the need to be a wire service for people who want to keep up to date on that matter. Happily, my audience doesn’t expect that of me. Perhaps this goes some way to explaining your data, as I know most other bloggers feel the same way.

    Out of curiosity: how do you determine what’s a “conservative” weblog and what’s a “liberal” weblog? As someone who shuns both of those labels, I’m very interested in that.

  8. My blog is one of the one’s you have in your short list that posted the initial report and then the correction. To be fair, the correction is in my personal belief’s favor, so that’s not a real acid test. It’s the corrections that don’t support your initial beliefs that are the hardest to swallow.

    I simply believe that the facts should be known, whether they support my viewpoint or not. The only real way to have knowledge is to accept reality – whether it agrees with you or not. I have a liberal POV, but that doesn’t preclude reality. If there are WMD, then my belief system is wrong and I should accept that fact and change my world view accordingly. To do otherwise is simply self delusion, and we’ve certainly seen how disasterous that can be in recent days.

    In any event, many thanks for this interesting study. I’d love to see more of stuff like this in the future.

  9. hello, nice blog, nice approach.

    i wouldn’t say i “followed up” because, of course, i didn’t link to the original story. i, unfortunately, don’t have time in my real life to blog as much as i’d like.

    rest assured i followed the story, and was suspicious sunday night when fox news was touting the finding of the “chemical weapons factory” like the second coming of bill o’reilly, and then on monday when reports were coming back that, no, it wasn’t really, never mind.

    it was only after the supposed column of tanks heading south from baghdad turned out to be yet another maguffin, that i decided to write about the entire phenomena of the news cycle spitting out crap that was not only not confirmed, but later proved to be totally false.

    i am working (in my head, at least) on an essay i’ll post later concerning the nature of the news cycle, which needs infotainment so badly, and how it may actually be helping to undermine bush’s position. in other words, live (get elected by) the shallow news-repeaters, die (watch poll numbers get defeated) by the shallow news-repeaters.

    hope y’all tune in!

  10. The Najaf plant story hasn’t conclusively been proven false yet. The Iraqi general captured on-site insists that the plant contains a network of tunnels that he and most others stationed there were never allowed into. Those tunnels reportedly have yet to be searched by allied troops. The whole story is still a mystery–if it wasn’t a chem weapons factory, why all the military stationed in and around it? I haven’t run “corrections” or updates because I just haven’t gotten around to it. If it proves false, I’ll report it. Facts are facts.

  11. I tend to trust the AP account over the NY Times, which has been butchering its war coverage from the start. By all current accounts, our pre-war intel suggested that the Najaf facility was a chemical weapons plant, which had not been in operation since 1998, but which was used earlier in the early to mid 1990s in violation of the 1991 cease-fire. Of the “corrections” you cite, only the New York Times’s account contradicts that view. The rest merely clarify what our intel has said all along, namely that there is no evidence the plant was used to manufacture WMD “in recent years.”

    Now, if we should later learn that the factory was never a chemical weapons factory to begin with, or that it was not used since 1991, then I’ll retract/correct the entry in a heartbeat. Until then, there is nothing to retract.

  12. Great research. Of course, it’s not perrfect because more of this is important for those people who think blogs are “the new media.”

    I didn’t see Instapundit. Did he ignore the story all together? Or did I just not look closely enough up there.

    And Dean’s World? Yep, people who think they’re “fair” and clearly are not – in regard to this war, anyway?

  13. First, I’d like to thank everyone who commented. The comments have been outstanding.

    Jackie D: The whole conservative/liberal classification isn’t a conclusion; it’s just something I noticed while reading 150 weblogs. For me, “conservative” is a shorthand term for “pro-liberation” and “liberal” is a shorthand term for “anti-war.” I can’t (and don’t want to) try to classify all 150 weblogs in such simplistic terms, which is why I encouraged everyone to visit the links themselves and draw your own conclusions.

    Randy: I tried to ignore the text of each entry as much as possible. For example, you’ll find several distinctly anti-war weblogs in the “Linked to Report Only” category that were extremely critical of the original news report, but because they never linked or discussed the issue after the story proved false, I classified them accordingly. You posted your entry on the 24th and updated an hour later, but never followed up on or after March 25th, when the new information was first released by the military.

    I’d also like to mention that I didn’t look at the comments when determining classifications. This brings up an interesting point: newspapers tend to print corrections on a separate page, which might be analogous to a comment thread, whereas weblogs claim to give corrections the same amount of attention as original postings. For example, this thread on Little Green Footballs mentions the new information.

  14. My blog post on this topic was an excerpt from a linked news article, posted without additional comment from me, which used the words “suspected chemical plant”, not “chemical weapons plant”. There is not need to post any type of correction because the purpose of the plant has not been proven or disproven at this point.

  15. Cool idea for analysis. I’m confused though. I saw that the “no it’s not” stuff appeared after I’d posted the link, and thought about adding that, but then I got the impression that the “yes it is” won out. So I decided not to be a yo-yo, and let people see the news for themselves as it played out, rather than mentioning it again either way.

    My current impression is that nothing specific has been found to indicate that the chemical plant contains or was used for making weapons, beyond whatever is implied by the Iraqi military people posted there, but that they’re far from done going through the place. I haven’t read anything more recently than yesterday on it, so who knows where it stands now.

  16. I had chosen not to post on the original story in ‘different strings’ because by the time I learned of the story, the reports saying that it was “premature” to call it a chemical weapons plant were already out. I decided to wait and see how the story played out before posting on it. In addition, I know that in many cases, a story will get wide coverage when it’s first reported, but then when it later is learned that things weren’t as they initially appeared, there’s much less coverage of the clarification. I have long been concerned about this because it’s one way that we end up with large numbers of people beliving something that isn’t true (for example, I’ve heard a great deal from people who try pointing to the Iraqis “use” of Scud missles in this war to prove that Saddam did have illegal weapons, even though it has since been shown that none of the missles they used were actually Scuds). I didn’t want to add to the problem, so I said nothing about the original story.

    Once the clarification had come out, however, I noticed that it wasn’t getting nearly as much “play” in the blogs as the initial story had, and decided to write an entry noting what had happened with this story, and using that as a launch point to look at the relationship between blogs and “traditional” news sources.

  17. Nice little post, I appreciate the time that went into it. I feel comfortable making corrections because my support for the war is based on my knowledge of facts and reasoning, and I try to do my best to present a complete picture so that I can test them.

    Of course, I’m in favor of war with Iraq because I’m convinced by the research I’ve done that Iraq is heavily involved with al-Qaeda, and I personally felt that the search for WMD’s was a weak pretext for the Bushies to hang their justifications on.

    At any rate, kudos and keep it up.

  18. I’ve seen a lot of comments that claim there was no retraction in the major media about the WMD factory. I should only point out the following story which states:

    “U.S. military investigators didn’t find any evidence that a chemical plant in southern Iraq made weapons in recent years, the Associated Press said, citing an unidentified U.S. defense official.”

    Sorry about posting this. Probably going to start a fire where there shouldn’t be one.

  19. As my blog was part of this test I would like comment.

    I also tend to report news stories that people might be interested in. I take them from respected sources (and Fox News) and state (as I did in this case) ‘X is reporting’.

    All that said your methodology is flawed. The fact that bloggers do not correct things like this could be for many reasons other than bias. Some bloggers are lazy, some miss things, some don’t want to look stupid, some forget what the posted, some simply can’t be bothered editing the post and some like me are still puzzled as to why such a well hidden plant exists (or I’m just lazy).

    Oh and I like every person on the planet am biased (and the format of this test shows it’s author’s too).

  20. I’m surprised how personally affected everyone seems to be over this.

    I think Andy’s main point was that many people (esp. those like Dave Winer) have been saying for years how weblogs can update and fact-check each other almost instantly, and thus be more honest and/or up-to-date than traditional media. It’s a pain for a newspaper to publish a correction (and for the readers to even find them), but on a blog, a new correction post will be just as big and easy to find as the original, so blogs will beat papers on corrections, right?

    The quick-and-dirty research (if you didn’t link to the same original links or same retractions, you might not be in the list, or in the wrong stack) shows that this isn’t the case, and that’s a point worth making.

    Whether or not it is due to bias is another question altogether, but before anyone answers that, I would stress to anyone running a site on any of the lists not to take this post as a direct attack on you personally. One of my sites is on the “both” list, but it could have easily shown up in either of the other ones. It’s tough to talk about weblogs without it sounding like someone is talking about a person, since weblogs are usually such intimate personal reflections of someone. This stuff is interesting if viewed from a mile up, and in aggregation like this.

    So why don’t people post retractions more willingly in weblogs than mainstream media does? It would seem quicker, cheaper, and faster to do so.

  21. Mathowie: because the “journalists” in the media is supposed to be “objective”, and bloggers are not journalists and post from a point of view. They/we post about “news” reports that support their position and ignore those that don’t. Just like the Pentagon and the White House and Fox News.

  22. I posted a somewhat lengthy discussion on this on my blog. The reason I didn’t post a “retraction” is because the original story was not false. It did not come to any conclusions such as the fact that the plant was currently producing chemical weapons. In fact, none of the “mainstream press” stories you’ve linked to are retractions: they are merely clarifications that add additional information (such as the fact that the plant hasn’t been used in five years) to the original story.

    In fact, what happened is that the addition of new information turned the story from a pretty exciting one into a pretty dull one. Since I work a full-time job and only have a couple of regular visitors anyway, why spend my time reporting on something that’s no longer interesting? I certainly don’t have the time to go back and fact-check all of my previous entries.

  23. I just commented on the report, I have yet to see or hear the proof that no chemical weapons were at the facility or were ever made there. I do not use my blog as a newspaper but rather my commentary of life as it happens.

  24. One thing that stands out is that there is a major difference between real journalism and just blogging. Standards, training and an enormous amount of peer pressure are the mark of journalism. But this much is obvious perhaps. Real journalism is hard and takes a lot of skill. As much as people bash journalists, there is a lot talent and skill required to do it right.

    What does puzzle me are the claims that the retraction wasn’t posted because it didn’t change the facts. While this may be true on its face, it’s not as if there is no controversy over the entire issue. After all, we are at war over just the very thing that we might have found definitive evidence of. Certainly all the reports in the media included a significant blurb (usually larger than the report itself) about the claim of WMD and a US spokesman saying that there was no doubt they would find them. So having a large (100 acre) potential piece of evidence determined not to evidence seems like a critical fact.

    After all, this is precisely how urban myths form. Just letting it lie seems kinda like leveraging the belief of 42% of polled Americans that there was an Iraqi 9/11 hijacker. Granted, reporting the fact that there were no Iraqi 9/11 hijackers does not change the facts. But it may change someone’s erroneous belief and thus the debate. So not posting a report which military investigators determined this was not a WMD plant seems to play into myth making – inadvertently, or not.

    Note, I’m not saying anyone had this intent at all so please don’t flame me about it. I’m just providing my viewpoint as a counter example to some of the comments I’ve seen.

  25. “Certainly all the reports in the media included a significant blurb (usually larger than the report itself) about the claim of WMD and a US spokesman saying that there was no doubt they would find them.”

    Whoa! Can you post a link to this? If something like that had been said by a US spokesperson — “no doubt [we will] find them” — I’m sure that would have been reported. It sure would have stood out to me.

    And John, I think you’re incorrectly using the word “retraction”. A retraction is, “We apologise for reporting that the chemical factory was definitely producing chemical weapons. We were in error for doing so.” None of the articles said anything of the sort, so new stories on it are just evolutions, updates and the picture becoming (hopefully clearer). But by no means is that a retraction.

  26. I got tagged for not issuing a retraction, but to be fair to myself I did point out in my original article that we needed to wait to see if it was verified. But then I took a break from the news for a couple of days to regain my sanity (sorry, war is extremely depressing, regardless of whether or not I think it just and/or appropriate) and didn’t see any of the subsequent analysis… until today, of course!

  27. So I posted about the whole fiasco, chemical weapons factory, ‘alleged’ chemical weapons factory, couldn’t find a retraction link but knew the claim had phizzled- so linked Tom Hayden talking about who will verify found WMDs, etc. Yeah, it was on the twenty-sixth, pretty late…

    Sometime just aren’t enough hours in the day to read and think and link and dip into the ready wonders of the blogosphere… and actually partake of non-digital life. A 32 hour day, thats all I’m askin’ here…

  28. I followed my referral links back here and found your article. I have since removed the post with this error.

    Thanks for the help.

    And you are right. The “chemical weapons factory found” report was all over the television, but I saw nothing about the news that the original reports were incorrect.

  29. Man, you really set me off on that one. I wrote up a bunch of stuff on my site:

    Responisblogging:

    http://www.howardsmusings.com/2003/03/28/responisblogging.html

    and

    The Zeroth Rough Draft of History:

    http://www.howardsmusings.com/2003/03/28/the_zeroth_rough_draft_of_history.html

    Why didn’t I join the elite, responsible, liberal few and post a retraction? First, I didn’t report it as anything other than speculation. Second, Matt Kelley’s wire article runs to 450 words with one useful sentence:

    Indications then were that the plant had not been used for banned weapons activities since 1998, the official said.

    The rest is drivel: Saddam might have them, he might use them, we’re prepared, blah, blah, blah.

    I have standards to uphold!

    Finally, how about fact-checking the so-called “Jenin massacre”, which was first trumpeted as worse than Bosnia or Hitler. Turns out that 30 people were killed, many of them gunmen. Turns out that the Palestinians faked funerals.

    How many so-called “liberal” blogs (I consider myself a liberal, BTW.) screamed in outrage at the time, then fessed up later that they’d made a teensy mistake? I’ve got a guess….

    And thanks for doing all the work, Waxy. It’s very interesting and set me off on a writing tear. I always love inspiration!

  30. A factor here seems to be site traffic. When Glen Campbell points out that only a handful of people visit his site and he knows most of them (which is the case with my site too) then the hassle of posting updates or retractions or whatever seems silly.

    Running a tiny weblog myself, I’ve found that someone will read my post, send me an email about it, perhaps with a link, and a private conversation about it ensues. Should I bother to spend my time rehashing the previous post, revising the conversation I had just to make it available for public viewing, and then going back day after day to fact check earlier posts?

    No way.

    But if you’re running something huge like Instapundit, This Modern World, or the like then it probably isn’t a bad idea.

  31. Heck, I only posted on the subject *after* I read *your* post. As soon as I saw the story I knew that it was going to turn out to be yet another false alarm, but I had not heard the truth until I came here via a link on the Dashmeister’s page.

  32. In response to Jackie D’s request:

    Whoa! Can you post a link to this? If something like that had been said by a US spokesperson — “no doubt [we will] find them” — I’m sure that would have been reported. It sure would have stood out to me.

    Well, if you had followed the link I had posted to the story I was referring to, you would have read:

    U.S. President George W. Bush has cited Iraqi possession of biological and chemical weapons as a chief reason for going to war. Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has said Iraq destroyed all of these weapons and the U.S. hasn’t yet provided proof they exist.

    There is “no doubt” Hussein’s regime has weapons of mass destruction and they will be found, General Tommy Franks, the commander-in-chief of U.S. forces in the region, said in a briefing March 22.

    (Associated Press 3-25)

    Perhaps you misunderstood me. I didn’t say that a US spokesman said that they would find WMD in the 100 acre facility. Only that there was no doubt that they would find WMD – somewhere.

    As to my use of the word “retraction”, you are quite right. Clarification would have been a better choice. However, since many of the headlines of the first news reports read “Chemical Weapons Plant Found by US”, I think retraction of the assertion is a fair way of characterizing the report that followed.

  33. Wow, I’m glad I posted the correction!

    Actually, I did not know at first that the story had been corrected; someone emailed me the information. There is such a deluge of information out there that it is difficult to keep up with it all. Certainly, the original story was given much more attention (TV time…) than the story that no chemical weapons had been found. (Interesting that the plant was so well camouflaged, though..)

    This story convinced me to stop trying to report on ‘breaking news’ about the war. There is simply too much going on for me to take it all in and then report on it accurately. Other people are doing that job better than I could possibly do it.

    Interesting study.

  34. I’d just like to jump in here since I was one of the first to mention the chemical plant story (I think) and posted 2 updates on the story, but was not included in the study.

    First, an update for this particular story should be regarded as a correction not a retraction. According to the NY Times nothing has been found so far but the facility remains suspicious since there are triple sealed bunkers that haven’t been explored yet. Moreover, the general caputred at the site claims that there’s a section of the facility which he was never allowed to enter.

    Second, I suspect that many people don’t publish retractions or corrections because of the firehose of news that’s pouring our of Iraq. The chemical plant find is old news already and people are looking elsewhere.

  35. Very interesting analysis. I think that since this story, many bloggers are realizing that the “fog of war” means that reporting on the latest screaming headline on any US cable news network means you’re more likely to be reporting something false than not.

  36. I have posted an update on the post where I linked the original story. The main reason I never posted an update is that the chemical plant story was not the main point of the post in question — the link was a spur-of-the-moment thing. Also, I admit to being overwhelmed by the fast pace of all the war news. That’s why I’m not a warblogger.

  37. I didn’t actually get around to linking to the story until after the FoxFlacks had corrected the story. Fortunately, I’d saved the original text and did quote it to do a little compare ‘n contrast between the original and the correction. The story, retraction, and how it was handled in the ‘blogosphere’ inspired me to go off on a rant on my humble blog about how the various pro-war blogs were screaming that this place was the real deal based on one story from a cource that, shall we say… has a certain reputation? Yeah, that’ll do it. Other outlets were reporting at the time that the site was only “suspected” of being a chemical weapons plant when Fox was saying “confirmed.” That set off alarm bells, and I was not all that surprised when Fox reported its correction. Cynicism? Well-founded suspicion? You decide.

    My rant on the subject, if you need to kill some time.

    I should point out that my blog is less focussed on the minute-to-minute developments of the war as it is on the debate that still surrounds the war — I’m in Canada, so debate is still the order of the day domestically. Jumping on to some war development or other is not my usual style, but the reports that this was, then wasn’t a chemical weapons plant seemed a good example of how different outlets handle their war coverage.

  38. Thanks for putting this bit of research together, it’s pretty fascinating. The one thing that’s getting a hell of a good laugh out of me is seeing how many sites are labeling all the blogs–like ours–where we didn’t post the retraction of the chemical plant story as right-wing. Honestly, the reason I didn’t was a combination of work/war burnout.

    To be honest, all things considered after right-wingers came out of the woodwork on our site, I’m annoyed at the thought of posting more on the war for now. I’ll leave it to the people who do it just as well, if not better, and stick to my usual nonsense.

  39. I posted from the BBC warblog a tepid spokesman quote within an hour of the original Fox story and noted CNN’s caution on it in that post also. I don’t think your analysis takes into account the multitasking involved in blogging. Once I posted the caution, I saw the later correction and since it was so widely posted I felt no need to repost on my site.

    I would think only a blog with the original Fox story with no follow up at all would say much, but even then someone could have simply moved on in their blog, and not felt a correction was necessary or helpful. This further dimension of it comes from the fact that because sites like Command Post and the Agonist et al. offer such comprehensive coverage, these individual stories became repeats for most of us and we went on to other dimensions of the story.

  40. I linked to the correction because I was talking about “The Fog of War” and how breaking news is often wrong.

    I didn’t link to the original because I’m not very interested in news that’s being reported elsewhere.

    Of course, I’m a socialist wacko, too. =)

  41. First: I am not a journalist (not that there’s anything wrong with being a journalist…). I am an amateur spare-moment commentator.

    Very rarely do I go back and update a post once it’s scrolled down my blog a couple of notches, especially if the update is uninteresting or unexciting. Occasionally I’ll update a post by posting a comment to it myself. If I (personally) have something new to say about a subject, I’ll update via a wholly new post.

    I am, also, quite biased on this issue, and furthermore am honest and accurate about my bias (as I wish every actual journalist would be).

    I am not so biased that I’ll outright lie. On the other hand I am also lazy, and doing this for free, and thus am less motivated to rigorously followup on a post whe it turns out the underlying story was not as interesting as it first appeared.

    Still, your post here inspired me to stick in a followup, so thanks!

  42. My blog was listed in the group that linked to both the original story and the correction that followed.

    For the record, my blog is not a news source. I am about as biased as they come, and so is my blog. I don’t report. I rant.

    I came across the correction (it was impossible to miss) and blogged it because it was important – to me. What I had hoped would be the first of many “smoking guns” turned out not to be. My posting of the correction was not editorial integrity. It was an expression of regret.

  43. Seems a little late for this, but for the record:

    My citation (listed here under “linked to report only”) asked, “If Iraq had this WMD at its disposal, and knew we were poised to attack them for many, many months, why has this weapon not been used against our troops?”

    In other words, it was skeptical.

    Your method needs work, but your motives are sterling and the idea is a winner. If you can get a bunch of interns to fact-check for you (ha, ha) and this will become a terrific resource.

  44. So why don’t people post retractions more willingly in weblogs than mainstream media does? It would seem quicker, cheaper, and faster to do so.

    There’s no payoff in it for bloggers.

    Blogging is, in a lot of ways, about instant pleasure. You notice something, you think something, boom, it’s out there.

    For mainstream media, the more credible they are the more money they’ll make. This may be changing. FoxNews, apparently, is making a lot of money on being entertaining, and that’s not a new thing.

    /me wanders off into left field.

    It would be interesting to see how an established micropayment system would affect that. How many bloggers would research more diligently, fact-check more rigourously and update more uh, faithfully if there were a direct incentive to do so?

    [insert weak wuffle joke here]

  45. Perhaps such a “study” has some value, but without examining context, I really doubt it. My blog reported the original story only, which gets it lumped in with some conservative “agenda.”

    Of course you don’t take into account what I wrote:

    “The report was full of cautionary words like “suspected”, emphasising that conclusions were “premature.” Obviously, considering the sources, we should be double skeptical.”

    So what is there to retract?

    This just demonstrates that a purely quantitative “analysis” leaves a lot to be desired in showing bias.

  46. Of course it’s biased. It’s a personal blog! I’m not a news organization. I post links to articles that interest me at the moment. I don’t follow up. The way I see it, I’m paying for it, so I’ll be as biased as I want. You’re welcome to do the same, whether you’re liberal, conservative, or agnostic.

Comments are closed.