The editors of The Daily Beast removed its unethical and dangerous attempt at an investigation into the sex lives of athletes at the Olympics in Brazil.
“We were wrong,” said a note published on the publication’s website. “We will do better.”
While the note offers an apology to the athletes “who may have been inadvertently compromised” by their story, the editors’ note falls far short of what those Olympians and readers deserve.
First, the athletes who were possibly reported as gay or bisexual were not “inadvertently compromised.” The Daily Beast and its reporter Nico Hines deliberately set up fake dates with athletes in the Olympic village for the story.
Second, news consumers are getting tired of news organizations failing, shrugging and saying they’ll do better next time. Instead of offering empty words and promises, news organizations need to explain what went wrong with the initial story and how editors plan to prevent similar mistakes in the future.
Over a year ago, the Columbia Journalism School published a comprehensive report of the actions that led to Rolling Stone’s now-infamous investigation into campus rape. The authors of the report offered several suggestions to improve coverage, including confronting subjects with evidence and reducing the use of pseudonyms.
While the editors of Rolling Stone at the time committed to learning from their mistakes, such as not relying on the word of a single source, they then turned over editorial control of a cover story to its sole subject less than a year later.
Readers need to know what happened leading up to the publication of The Daily Beast’s report. They also need to know what will happen within the news organization to make sure something similar doesn’t happen again at a later date.
Journalism is built on trust. Mistakes like these harm not only the reputations and livelihoods of good journalists and editors at The Daily Beast, but every other journalist.
The Daily Beast and all news organizations that commit serious breaches of professional standards owe their sources, readers and colleagues a better and more concrete explanation than they’ll “do better.”
Andrew M. Seaman is the chairperson of the Society’s ethics committee.