Thursday, February 15, 2007

Quite a retraction from 'Consumer Reports'

When a respected and trusted media institution makes a mistake, it can do a deadly blow to the subject of that error. ‘Consumer Reports’ is trusted by millions for the rigorous science it brings to product testing, and the objective way its findings are presented (the publication will not accept advertising or allow its endorsements to be exploited in advertising).

The February issue of ‘Consumer Reports’ contained the startling revelation that infant car seats were much less safe than presumed, and shocking crash test footage was released to media.

Soon after, Consumers Union President Jim Guest issued a complete retraction of the story, announcing that the side-impact crash tests – which were conducted by an outside lab – had been compromised by serious mistakes. The tests were supposed to have been conducted at 38 mph, but were actually “much more severe than that,” according to Guest.

The magazine took immediate and decisive action, publicizing its decision to “withdraw” the article and its rankings from the record. This is helpful to those accessing the online database, but will not undo the perceptions created among readers who didn’t catch the retraction (which no doubt received fewer headlines than those generated by the original report). Such is the reality of any major error that creeps into a story; almost invariably, the correction will get less notice than the story that engendered it.

While on the subject of retractions, I encourage you to check out the Regret The Error link on this page. It’s a comprehensive roundup of corrections from newsrooms large and small, the world over. The topics range from deadly serious to quite funny, such as this correction from the Sentinel-Review of Woodstock, Ontario:

< In an article in Monday's newspaper, there may have been a misperception about why a Woodstock man is going to Afghanistan on a voluntary mission. Kevin DeClark is going to Afghanistan to gain life experience to become a police officer when he returns, not to shoot guns and blow things up. The Sentinel-Review apologizes for any embarrassment this may have caused. >

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