Another Chron adventure in bad journalism (updated)

It has not been a very good week or so for the Houston Chronicle.

Recall that the newspaper recently violated their own letters policy by running two letters by Andrew Prieditis within several days. As it turns out, Prieditis apparently doesn't even live in Houston, and had the same letter about Sarah Palin published in several U.S. newspapers, portraying himself as a resident of those cities. Indeed, he has had letters published in newspapers all over the world, claiming to be a resident of each newspaper's city. A cursory google search could have headed off this embarrassment, but that didn't seem to happen*.

On Tuesday, Richard Connelly posted that both a reporter and editor for one of the Chronicle neighborhood editions seemed to have some real problems with the basics of journalism.

The Chronicle's fact-checking/vetting has taken an even bigger hit with today's definitive reporting by the Lone Star Times that a woman who spoke in favor of health care reform at Rep. Sheila Jackson's Lee's town hall Tuesday and who was identified by the Houston Chronicle as a pediatric primary care physician turns out not to have been a doctor at all.

I emailed Chronicle reporter Cyndi Horswell early Wednesday afternoon about "Dr. Roxana Mayer" (as she had been identified in the story), basically asking Horswell if she knew where Mayer practiced medicine or where she was licensed, since my search of the Texas Medical Board database didn't turn up any physician by that name licensed in this state. Horswell never responded to that email.

Horswell did, however, respond to a similar query from Bramanti. Clearly, neither she nor any Chron editors bothered to do any verification of not-doctor Mayer's details. "This is the information that the woman gave at the meeting," Horsewell emailed Bramanti. "I would hate to think someone misrepresented themselves. She also told me that she had been an Obama state delegate," Horswell concluded.

People misrepresent themselves all the time. That's why professional journalists are supposed to verify key information. Indeed, the Chronicle gave every impression that they had vetted not-doctor Mayer's background. Here's the telling excerpt from their reporting:

One supporter, Dr. Roxana Mayer, a physician who does not live in Jackson Lee's district, praised the reform plan for overhauling a broken system.

I don't know what there is in the bill that creates such panic, she said.

Had the Chronicle simply described her as "a woman who identified herself as a physician," that would have been bad enough -- but the newspaper instead gave credence to what turned out to be a completely fabricated story.

Earlier this year, some Chronicle suit ordered all references to this blog removed from Chron.com. Now that Lone Star Times has exposed the newspaper's fact-checking as nonexistent, we suppose they might be next to be banished from Chron.com.

Wouldn't it be much nicer if some Chron suit could wave a magic wand and just as easily make all their junk journalism disappear?

It might even improve the bottom line of the ever shrinking enterprise.

* We emailed the Chronicle about their letters policy and their vetting, but their reader-rep-by-committee didn't deign to answer our questions.

UPDATE: The shenanigans also drew the attention of Patterico, who is not impressed from afar by Houston's Hearst daily. Trust us, the local view is worse!

UPDATE 2: And now, Chron.com has changed the erroneous reporting on both their story and their photo with no formal correction or indication the text has been changed. That's whitewash journalism, Chron-style, and it's dishonest.

BLOGVERSATION: Unca Darrell, Texas on the Potomac (Chron.com), Texas Sparkle, Lose an Eye, It's a Sport.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 08/13/09 12:14 AM | Print |

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