Photographed pages from early copies of Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts, former New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson’s forthcoming book about the changing industry of journalism, circulated the internet this week, revealing several errors and inaccuracies.
There were small, easy-to-correct errors, like saying that Charlottesville is in North Carolina, rather than Virginia. But greater concern was raised about an apparent bias against so-called “new media,” especially Vice News, with facts skewed to make young, digital journalists appear inept next to their venerable counterparts at legacy publications like Abramson’s alma mater, the Times. (Vice declined to comment for this article, and Simon & Schuster, the book’s publisher, did not respond to requests for comment.)
After uncorrected proofs of the book were sent out, some journalists stepped in to fact check her work on Twitter.
In one passage, Abramson describes the scene at an Ebola clinic in Africa where an unnamed correspondent walked around with no protective clothing, while the Times correspondents “followed the same protocol as doctors.” Journalist Danny Gold tweeted, “Wow, this is a straight up lie in @JillAbramson’s book. I was this reporter. Like every other reporter there, I was told by experts not to walk around with a PPE [personal protective equipment] unless you were in the ICU. I also worked alongside Times reporters, who a. Gave me that advice and b. Did the same.” Gold was on assignment for Vice at the time, and subsequently tweeted a video of the discussion about protective equipment, which backs up his account.
Journalist Avi Asher-Schapiro tweeted, “The basic errors Jill Abramson appears to have made in her reporting on VICE are disappointing. Also, I am one of the staffers-laid off during the mass lay-offs she mentions. She calls us ‘trustafarians….’ I wish.”
Arielle Duhaime-Ross, a correspondent with HBO’s Vice News Tonight, tweeted a thread of several inaccuracies contained in one paragraph about her in Merchants of Truth. The misrepresentations of Duhaime-Ross range from minor (like describing her as wearing the blue boots instead of brown), to major misrepresentations of her qualifications and identity. Abramson described her as transgender, which she is not, and said she has no background in environmental policy when in fact she has a master’s degree in science, health and environmental reporting, and covered biology and health at Verge before working at Vice.
Several other journalists tweeted their support of Duhaime-Ross, their outrage at the way she was represented by Abramson, and their overall skepticism about Abramson’s reporting, bias, and the veracity of the book as a whole. Sarah Sax, an environmental reporter at VICE News tweeted, “One of the things I like most about my job @vicenews is being mentored by passionate, talented journalists like @adrs [Duhaime-Ross]. The thing she’s strictest about? Accuracy @JillAbramson could learn a thing or two from her.”
Abramson tweeted in response to the onslaught of criticism, “The photos of pages circulating from my book are from uncorrected galleys, which have a clear disclaimer saying ‘Please do not quote for publication without checking the finished book.’ Please do check out a finished copy of Merchants of Truth, available Feb. 5.”
Her defense seemed to backfire though, as industry professionals pointed out that the corrections made to galleys are generally minor grammatical fixes and the occasional small detail — not wholesale characterizations of people and groups. Duhaime-Ross later updated her thread to say that she had received a corrected final copy, which did change the inaccurate reference to her as trans to the correct descriptor “gender non-conforming,” but that that was the only change. “It still omits my qualifications, describing an inept diversity hire & a false anecdote,” she tweeted.