Credibility problems


Update two: It’s complicated. The moose was injured. It was later shot not once,  but twice to end its suffering. It wasn’t hit by a car as the charity that butchered it believed, but instead apparently attacked by a wolf or large dog. There is a full, revised report here.

Update: The charity that butchered the moose reports that the only bullet wound was from the handgun of the trooper who put the moose out of its misery with a shot to the head. The moose also had a torso wound from a rib that was broken and went through the animal’s side after it was hit by a car. That impact collapsed a lung as well. On average, about 155 moose die on Anchorage’s roads every year, but given that collisions peak in winter  when the hours of daylight are short and the roads are slippery, moose-car collisions are an almost every day thing this time of year, according to adjusters for the insurance companies that handle claims from drivers.

Original commentary

For those who missed it, here’s the fake news the Alaska Dispatch News had up on its website for a time on Saturday:

“Two boys found a bull moose shot dead in East Anchorage on Friday near a church, making it the third shooting of a moose in the city in less than a week. The boys, both 10, said they were walking to McDonald’s from their neighborhood directly south of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints off East 36th Avenue around 4 p.m.

“That’s when they noticed the moose lying in the snow between a bike path and the church parking lot. Robert Alec Lisbourne Jr. and Riley Ryan said the moose was breathing when they found it. They ran to Ryan’s house to tell his aunt and then returned to the scene of their discovery.”

It was a moving story complete with a photo(see above) of the boys with the poor, dead moose, which the story suggested was the third senselessly shot in as many days in Alaska’s largest city.

The story was not intentionally written as fake news, but that didn’t make it any less fake.

Nineteen-year old, Alaska Moose Federation carcass retriever Bryan “Dyer said it was obvious the moose was not struck by a vehicle,” the ADN reported. “None of the animal’s legs were broken, he said. A bloody gash about three inches in length at the back edge of the moose’s front leg was a gunshot wound, Dyer said.

“The moose also had what appeared to be a wound on its head, though Dyer was unsure if it was caused by a gunshot. Elaine Bales, Ryan’s aunt, said the moose had spent several days hanging around the neighborhood, near where Tudor Road curves north into Muldoon Road. It ate off of trees and hadn’t really bothered people, she said. Ryan said his little brother named the moose Monty, after the cartoon character in ‘The Adventures of Monty Moose,’ a children’s educational video about the Alaska Tundra. Both boys said they were sad the moose died.”

Shed a tear

Everyone was supposed to be sad. That was the point of the story which sought to “advance,” as they say in the journalism business, a story line that started on Wednesday with a dispatch from Alaska Wildlife Troopers saying they had found a dead cow moose near Valley of the Moon Park in Midtown that “appeared to have been shot.  It is unknown at this time if this moose poaching is connected to a cow moose that was shot during the early morning hours in Mountain View.”

Those two sentences quickly blew up on into a story about “two moose shot and killed,” and a reported investigation into two illegal moose killings in Anchorage, even though it has yet to be officially confirmed the dead moose at Valley of the Moon was shot.

What is now known, however, is that the third dead moose was indeed shot, but not in the leg.

That wound to its head was where a state trooper placed a bullet to put the previously injured animal out of its misery. The ADN now has up an accurate story explaining what happened. The story has the same photo of the dead moose and two 10-year-old boys.

The new story offers no hint of what the earlier story said. There is not even a suggestion that the new story is an update. Nothing is said about the original as if by ignoring the fake news report the screw up will somehow cease to exist.

“A moose found dead in East Anchorage on Friday was suffering an injury to its hind leg and was put down by an Alaska Wildlife Trooper” is what the lead on the revised story says.

The story then quotes trooper spokesman Tim Despain in  a backhanded effort to blame the 10-year-olds for the earlier, inaccurate story:

“‘There was a period of time … where (the moose) was left there and apparently that’s when these guys discovered it had been shot and assumed it was (shot) maliciously, which it was not,'” DeSpain said.

Dyer is largely gone from the rewritten story, although there is this:

“The wildlife biologist had determined the moose had likely been hit by a car, DeSpain said, though Dyer said it appeared the moose had not been (hit).”

The suggestion there is that a 19-year-old, 2015 graduate of Palmer High School knows as much about moose as a professionally trained wildlife biologist who spends his time responding to calls about injured wildlife. Neither the original story nor the new and improved version provide any context as to Dyer’s age or experience in accessing wildlife injuries.

Is no one responsible?

It would be easy here to blame the reporter who wrote the story for treating two 10-year-old boys and a 19-year-old employee of  the Alaska Moose Federation as experts on moose injuries, but the problem in this case as in many others of this sort these days isn’t the reporter.

The reporter is young and doing what his employers want.

As Mike Doogan, a one-time columnist for the now-defunct Anchorage Daily News and later a state legislator, once observed: You can’t produce a newspaper better than what the owners and managers of the newspaper desire.

Newspapers used to be the entities you could count on to get the facts straight more often than not. Those days are over. In the age of the internet, they are in a bigger rush to set the hook than TV was back in the bad old days when the moose story might first have appeared this way:

“Moose murders now up to three! Details at nine!”

Mistakes are destined to happen when reporters are under pressure to write stories before thoroughly reporting stories. But that’s not the biggest problem with this fiasco.

The truly big problem here is the deception, the cover-up, the attempt to pretend like the original, truly screwed up and bogus story never happened. That is fundamentally dishonest. It is the sort of thing that undermines faith in journalism and journalists.

All journalists.

It is exactly sort of thing that has pushed trust in the media to a historic low. 

The ADN screwed up on Saturday. It ran with the story it wanted before reporting the story that existed. It isn’t the first time. Journalism is a difficult business requiring myriad decisions every hour. Mistakes happen.

When they do,  journalists need to own these mistakes and fess up – not pretend they didn’t happen.

Because every time something like this happens, and the media pretends it didn’t, the media loses. The distrust broadens. Public faith in the media erodes a little more. And this is not good in a democracy.

Saturday was a sad day all right.

It was a damn sad day for journalism.

1 reply »

  1. Interesting to read the comments made before the ADN article was updated. So many folks ready to tar and feather the “sicko” who was out there shooting moose for grins. Scary times we live in and the MSM, rather than providing the public with accurate information they can use to make informed decisions, is stoking the flames of outrage in an effort to generate clicks and “likes”.

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