By: Joe Strupp
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a lengthy apology to readers Sunday after a local religious ministry complained that two articles written by a staff writer contained numerous errors. The paper also says it is taking “corrective action.”
Post-Dispatch Managing Editor Arnie Robbins, who refused to name the reporter, said the staffer had not been fired, and declined to comment on any other disciplinary action. A review of the paper’s archives by E&P reveals, however, that the reporter was Carolyn Tuft.
“We just think that our credibility is our most important asset and important to our readers,” Robbins said about the note, which ran 577 words. “We failed and we felt the need to come clean on two particular stories.” Tuft could not be reached for comment.
The note, which ran on page 2 of the Sunday paper, listed several mistakes and attempts to correct them.
Mark Sutherland, a public relations director for the Fenton, Mo.-based Joyce Meyer Ministries, told E&P Monday afternoon that no legal action was ever threatened, although he acknowledged that a lawyer was involved in the discussions that led to the correction. “We called them and put together a list of what was wrong, met with them, and they were very receptive,” Sutherland said. “It was a good end result.”
In its note, the paper said: “The Post-Dispatch is taking corrective action to address the professional failures that led to these errors. We know that mistakes erode our credibility and compromise our journalism. Our goal is to make our news coverage accurate, fair and trustworthy. We apologize to you, our readers, for the journalistic transgressions in the May 1 and April 18 articles.”
Robbins would not say today specifically what “corrective action” was being taken, but said the paper does not believe the reporter had made similar mistakes in other stories. “Some of it was just basic sloppiness, Reporting 101 basics,” he said, without being more specific. “Beyond that, there are a few things we are considering, but nothing has been determined.”
The apology began: “Stories that ran in the newspaper May 1 and April 18 about Joyce Meyer Ministries contained errors. After receiving a complaint from the ministry about factual issues in these stories, we examined a transcript from a press conference held by the ministry, records cited in the stories and the reporter’s notes. We discovered references that need to be corrected or clarified. These two articles did not meet our standards for fairness and accuracy.”
The note went on to correct several problems with the stories. Among the errors, the paper wrongly reported:
o That Meyer and her husband received free use of a company plane, when they actually have such costs deducted from their compensation packages. The paper also wrongly indicated that a ministry spokesman referred to their compensation as “hefty,” while erroneously reporting that Meyer’s salary had been reduced “due to previous Post-Dispatch reporting.”
o That the spokesman for the ministry declined to disclose the amount of royalties received by Joyce Meyer personally for her books and tapes, when he actually had said the information was unavailable to him and is a matter between the publisher and Joyce Meyer.
o That all four of Meyer’s children sit on the ministry’s board when only two of Meyer’s children do.
o Speculation by a critic of the group that it had been under an IRS investigation when “the ministry is in full compliance with all IRS rules and regulations, and the ministry has never been contacted by the IRS regarding its status as a tax-exempt organization.” The paper also failed to report a ministry denial of such speculation.
The note also referenced a Post-Dispatch November 2003 four-part series on the ministry, which included reporting by Tuft and other reporters. Although the paper reiterated its support for the series, it did correct one error, saying “although a building permit was sought for a $10,000 bathroom for the pool house, the ministry says the bathroom was never built.”
Robbins said no review of Tuft’s past work on other issues or stories was being done. “We believe it is isolated to just these two stories,” Robbins said, declining to say if any other action would be taken against the reporter or any other staff members. “We’re still reviewing that.”
He said the paper began to review the reporting after receiving a complaint from Joyce Meyer Ministries in mid-May. When asked if the organization threatened legal action, he said “you should get that from them.”
The ministry’s Sutherland, while denying any legal threat, went on to accuse the paper of bias in its overall coverage of the ministry. “A bias against us because of a failure to report all of the good things we are doing,” Sutherland explained. “I hope in the future they will get the facts right.”
When asked if he expected any further corrections or follow-up stories related to the ministry complaints, Robbins said, “I certainly hope not.”