Three weeks ago, our Editor-in-Chief (now Editor-in-Chief, Emeritus), Bill San Antonio published his weekly column about a high school classmate of his who died in a car accident.
The column, which ran with the headline “A statistic I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” implied that the person was drunk when he was in the accident. Bill talked about how his death reminded him of the dangers of drunk driving while paying homage to his life.
It was an emotional, heartfelt piece, ; it was also wrong. The man in question, it turned out, was not drunk; Newsday had reported so days before the Torch went to print.
It was an egregious error by Bill and a stunning lack of oversight from the previous editorial board, of which I was a part. How Bill – who often spends upwards of 10 hours researching his columns – failed to do what we were all taught in Intro to Journalism is a mystery; how nobody asked Bill if he had attempted to confirm the facts is equally puzzling.
It was a terrible mistake – one that upset a lot of people – but it was not an intentional error. Bill was distraught when he realized it, and has personally apologized to at least one of the people from his hometown that emailed him about it.
This doesn’t take away from the good work Bill has done in his time at the Torch. I personally have looked to him for guidance many times before this incident, and will continue to do so. It’s easy to make mistakes; it’s hard to own up to them, and Bill has done just that. His body of work should not be judged based on one lapse in judgment.
The new editorial board is taking steps to ensure that nothing like this happens again. Truth be told, it was a comedy of errors that will likely never happen again, but even so, we will never again forget one of the basic axioms in journalism – “ask, then ask again.”