BROOKE GLADSTONE: This week another newspaper printed an apology - the Boston Globe. The paper was retracting an earlier report that police were investigating the murders of married Dartmouth college professors Half and Susan Zantop as a crime of passion most likely resulting from an adulterous love affair. Soon after two teenaged boys were arrested, and the adultery angle was apparently dropped. Globe editor Matt Storin wrote: it was certainly never our intent to increase the suffering of the Zantop family, their friends or the Dartmouth College community and we express regret for the pain our story undoubtedly caused them. The Globe's mistake, though much more quickly remedied, was not unlike one made by the Times in the Wen Ho Lee case, relying on sources who proved unworthy of that trust. Boston Globe editor Matt Storin joins us now. Welcome to On the Media!
MATT STORIN: You're welcome Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Certainly you can be sorry about causing pain, but did you do anything wrong journalistically by reporting a story in progress?
MATT STORIN: Well I don't think that the reporters certainly did anything wrong, but I can see now that the sources that we were talking to, although they were telling us what they knew and or felt they knew, were running a little bit behind the events. I mean maybe that was just bad luck, but at just about the time we were completing our reporting on this story, they were beginning to shift their attention to the two young men who were ultimately arrested. I mean one problem unfortunately was that some of the investigators were really not dealing with the press at all, and they really weren't taking questions, so that you could get steered in a different direction perhaps if different investigators felt differently than our sources did. Now we did have our best people on this, and I'm really not criticizing them, but if --were we doing this this week, I suspect there would be other questions we would ask.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Is this the traditional tension between getting it first and getting it right?
MATT STORIN:That is certainly a factor and it always has been in a competitive situation and we're in a two-newspaper town; and I suspect it always will be.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:I'd like to ask you in general about off the record sources in law enforcement. When the Times was reporting on Wen Ho Lee and got ahead of itself and had to apologize and then much earlier the notorious Richard Jewel case - the so-called Atlanta Bomber who turned out not to be - all the reporters in those cases were working off of sources inside law enforcement! How much credence can you give to what they tell you?
MATT STORIN: I think the most important factors are a) that you have experienced reporters who know how to evaluate not only the information they're getting but know how to evaluate the sources themselves; b) you have to think about what the fluidity of the investigation may be. How much of breakthrough have you arrived at where it is safe to go public and see I would say -you have to be aware, and I'm not saying this happened in our instance, of investigators using the press for their own purposes to try to smoke someone out by publication. You have to remember, with all due respect to law enforcement officials, that they are not journalists - their missions are different.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And so the moral of the story is-- wait?
MATT STORIN:Just be careful and skeptical but on the other hand just because a mistake is made-- you also should not be overly cowed about aggressive reporting.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well thank you very much.
MATT STORIN: You're welcome!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Matthew Storin is the editor of the Boston Globe.