Our view: Getting it right

July 27, 2019 11:05:20 PM

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Accountability. 

 

Our newsroom knows the word well. We work daily, on behalf of the public, to hold accountable government officials, candidates and others charged with the public trust. 

 

If we are to hold others accountable with integrity, we must also hold ourselves as such, admitting inaccurate, incomplete or out-of-context reporting. Most often, our attempts to make good on errors or ambiguous reporting are through standard corrections or clarifications. Some cases, like our attempts to verify questions surrounding county prosecutor candidate Steve Wallace's military service, merit more explanation. 

 

Ten years ago, a story a Dispatch reporter wrote for our Lifestyles section noted Wallace had served in the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. In a different reporter's story last month, that version of Wallace's service was reprinted, as the reporter had pulled it directly from the 2009 story. 

 

Turns out, it wasn't true. After the second story printed, we began receiving calls from readers concerned about Wallace's reported military service. 

 

It bears noting Wallace never claimed to The Dispatch for either story that he served with the 101st or in Vietnam. The misinformation wasn't in quotes, and earlier this month when a reporter asked Wallace frankly to clarify his service record, he said he had been aware of the Dispatch's inaccuracies but had not let us know. He clarified his actual service at that time. We ran a correction, based on what Wallace told the reporter, stating he trained only with an ROTC unit at Mississippi State -- never in Vietnam and not with the 101st. 

 

That should have been the end of it. Unfortunately it wasn't. 

 

In our correction, we printed Wallace served in the 541st Parachute Infantry Regiment. That regiment, as a reader's letter to the editor subsequently pointed out, disbanded right after World War II. A quick Google search confirmed that claim, leaving us again to right a wrong. 

 

Another reporter talked to Wallace on Thursday for more clarity. Wallace maintains he told The Dispatch he trained with an ROTC unit affiliated with the 1st Battalion, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, not the 541st. This seems more likely since it existed when Wallace was in college and is still active today. MSU told us Friday it doesn't maintain ROTC records that far back.  

 

We don't know if the 541st misunderstanding came from Wallace misspeaking or the reporter mishearing. The reporter didn't audio record the conversation, and in any case, the correction we printed was still incorrect. 

 

While we certainly didn't mean any harm to Wallace or anyone else, the entire business of his military service being publicly inaccurate came entirely -- as far as we can tell‚ from us.  

 

If we assume the responsibility to offer criticism and scrutiny to others, we must also be honest when we make mistakes. 

 

Moreover, we thank the readers who saw the mistake and reached out to us. We want the record to be right, and we encourage anyone who sees any inaccurate or unclear reporting in this newspaper -- whether flattering or unflattering -- to speak up so we can correct it.