The public editor of the Toronto Star's excuses why the news mucked up rings hollow. Passing the buck is not an excuse.
The Star blames the parents, the school board, and deferring to the police as their stock answers, but none of it washes.
- It does not matter if the parents consented or not. Appeal to Mommy and Daddy is not a legitimate excuse. Journalism is about facts. What the press had was a story coming from the lips of an 11 year old girl. She could (a) be telling the truth, meaning she is in imminent danger. Her parents may not understand the consequences of exposing their child because they have no experience. Journalists, on the other hand, do have experience. There have been many children in the news for being victims of attacks and attempted abductions -- none of those children were ever identified; (b) be mistaken, meaning she can be the object of ridicule and online abuse; or (c) be fibbing, meaning she will have a big target on her for the rest of her life. Because false abduction and attack stories from children is not unheard of, the Star should have already had the proper protocols in place.
- It also does not matter if the Toronto school board gave their blessing -- it is not the school board's place to dictate how press ought to be covering any event. The parents may have place pressure, but again, they are not supposed to choreograph news coverage. That is outrageous. If the parents were insistent, the press could have interviewed them, not their daughter.
- Deferring to the police isn't journalism, but stenography. Journalists should have asked for some proof -- or did some research before reacting to this story.
The story was mishandled from every possible angle, and the press is still pretending as if they have done nothing wrong.
And yes, this story was fake news. It was a hoax that the press allowed unchallenged, meaning it was not real news. A child told a fib. It does not matter why. Once upon a time, she would have been caught privately, her teachers and parents would deal with it privately, and she'd learn a lesson and move on.
Now, she has been marked for life, thanks to a irresponsible press, who have yet to learn a lesson themselves.
Of all the actors in this needless fiasco, it is the news media who behaved the worst of the lot, and they should own up, apologize, and learn.