Friday, July 15, 2011

Tax Expert David Cay Johnston Gets the Facts Wrong, Gets the Correction Exactly Correct

If Only Politicians Were This Honest

The biggest nightmare of anyone who writes for publication is to get a story completely, utterly and totally wrong.  This happened to David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, a member of the law faculty of Syracuse University and the author of a column for Reuters.  Mr. Johnston wrote a column in which he described Fox News parent, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. as receiving a $4.8 billion in tax refunds over a four year period despite making over $10 billion in profit.  On Wednesday he had to write

Rupert Murdoch's News Corp did not get a $4.8 billion tax refund for the past four years, as I reported. Instead, it paid that much in cash for corporate income taxes for the years 2007 through 2010 while earning pre-tax profits of $10.4 billion.

Mr. Johnston’s error was not the result of bad reporting, of failure to verify his facts or the result of a premeditated attack on the Murdoch media conglomerate.  It was the result of an obscure accounting change in the reporting of financial data by the company.  It was simply an unintended error.

Mr.  Johnston clearly is suffering from the publication of his incorrect analysis.  The lead sentence in his column apologizing for and explaining his error read

Readers, I apologize. The premise of my debut column for Reuters, on News Corp's taxes, was wrong, 100 percent dead wrong.

And he went on to say

For the first time in my 45-year-old career I am writing a skinback. That is what journalists call a retraction of the premise of a piece, as in peeling back your skin and feeling the pain. I will do all I can to make sure everyone who has read or heard secondary reports based on my column also learns the facts and would appreciate the help of readers in that cause.

and to explain in detail the process of how he misconstrued the information.

The Dismal Political Economist believes that long after Mr. Johnston’s initial error is forgotten the manner in which he addressed it will be seen as the exemplary way to confront this type of mistake.  He would urge those public figures, of all political persuasions, to examine the actions of Mr. Johnston before they stammer out their own incomplete apologies and their prevarications when they misspeak. 

It is understandable for public figures to get something wrong.  It is unacceptable for them not to correct the record in at least as manner as complete and effective as Mr. Johnston has done.

No comments:

Post a Comment