About that Delta and the Jews story ...

I wanted to follow up on two recent GetReligion posts where I cast doubt on media reports. The first was a widely transmitted report about a Jewish court in Israel condemning a dog to death by stoning. I have a pretty good bovine excrement detector and something just smelled with the story. Of course, even people who are much less skeptical and cynical than I am probably could have figured out something was weird about the story. But you never know -- crazy things happen all the time that I can't believe. I've lost many a wager with my own husband about whether something actually happened (Reports of Mel Gibson's initial rant against a police officer is one such example.). Anyway, I want to just report that in this case the dog stoning story was just completely false. You can read more about it at the link and consider why the story spread like wildfire.

The other problematic story that I highlighted recently was the Religion News Service account of Delta not flying Jews and non-Muslim artifacts to Saudi Arabia. I already gave a pretty thorough run-down of how that story spread through media outlets last week.

But since we discussed the story and had some heated commentary on it, I wanted to be sure to update folks that RNS ended up pulling the story. I was a bit surprised the story wasn't pulled earlier but the whole kerfuffle did happen on a weekend and that may have delayed everyone's ability to make a quick decision. Here's the note they sent out:

The RNS story on Delta Air Lines’ pending partnership with Saudi Arabian Airlines that was distributed on June 23 contained incomplete information about Saudi visa policies and U.S. Jews’ ability to fly Delta flights to Saudi Arabia. The story was not fully edited according to RNS standards:

- While Saudi Arabia does not issue visas to citizens carrying Israeli passports, Saudi officials say an Israeli stamp in a U.S. passport is not a barrier to entry, even for a stop in transit.

- While Saudi Arabia does not allow non-Islamic religious articles within its borders, religious identity and a passenger’s religious articles are not barriers to flights on either Delta or Saudi Arabian Airlines flights.

- Airline alliance programs typically allow passengers on one airline to book tickets on another, or redeem frequent flyer points on partner airlines. On Friday, Delta said such “code-sharing” agreements will not be part of its alliance with Saudi Arabian Airlines, nor will Delta passengers be able to redeem Delta frequent flyer miles on the Saudi airline.

RNS takes very seriously its commitment to accuracy, balance and thorough reporting, and the June 23 story failed to meet those expectations. Steps are being taken to correct and improve our internal editing process. We regret that the story was transmitted with incomplete information, as well as any unintended implication that Delta would be adopting policies of the Saudi government.

A couple of thoughts on this. It's unfortunate the story overstated what is already a very dramatic and difficult situation for Jews and other non-Muslims. I worry that we see too little coverage of what it's like to be a non-Muslim visiting or living in Saudi Arabia as it is. But I do think the story had so many problems that it should have been pulled.

Having said that, it's also worth noting how rare this situation is. I don't know what the statistics are in terms of how many reporters RNS works with or how many stories they publish, but they consistently do a great job of covering religion news around the U.S. and globe. Sometimes it takes an exception to reflect on that, but it's worth remembering.

We all make mistakes in terms of reporting, editing and the like. And I suppose you shouldn't heap loads of credit on people for doing what they're supposed to be doing. But reporting is very difficult work and writing engaging and thoughtful stories on hot topics under deadline is not easy.

On that note, I'll just leave you with this Onion story Bobby sent around yesterday. It's part of their campaign to win a Pulitzer:

Tireless, Hardworking Reporter Has Already Won Greatest Prize Of All 'The Love And Respect Of My Family And Community,' Esteemed Journalist Says

No one covers the fact that thousands of planes land safely each day. But the few major plane crashes each year get wall-to-wall coverage. Likewise, we're most likely going to cover the problems we see in reportage. If we cover good stories, it's usually the exceptionally good ones. But there are also thousands upon thousands of other stories written well and providing a valuable service to readers. So let's not forget to give journalists our love and respect in addition to our occasional criticism.

Photo via Goose.

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