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From the editor: As much as ever, verification is our mandate

Gary Miles
The Detroit News

I was speeding down eastbound Interstate 96 near Williamston late one night in 1995 when I spotted the officer. I pulled over even before he could activate his lights.

My sister's husband of one year had collapsed on a softball field in Independence Township and my family had been trying for hours to reach me, I explained.

I was not only speeding. According to the state, I also was driving with a suspended license for failure to pay a ticket. In a rare fit of prescience, I had come clean a few days earlier and carried the court receipt to prove it.

Gary Miles, editor and publisher of The Detroit News

If not for that, the officer said, I would not have left with a warning. I would have been riding with him — to jail.

I was reminded of that when I read an opinion piece for Monday's Detroit News that included an anecdote about a New York woman who said she was jailed while pregnant for a similar suspension. Despite its plausibility, we removed her account from the piece because we could not verify it.

Before we present something to you as fact, we must satisfy ourselves that it is credible.

Unverified information is flying nearly faster than you can detect it — from friends, family, on social media and on less scrupulous media sites.

In such an environment, a commitment to accuracy has costs, often in speed. Some media outlets report what another newsroom is reporting without verifying it first.

The News has a different standard. We must be convinced of the credibility of the report before we pass it on to you.

There are, of course, newsworthy allegations made every day that cannot be conclusively resolved. Police arrest and prosecutors charge, after all, before judges and juries rule. Workers and protesters, even criminal defendants, make meaningful accusations that cannot be disregarded. We cannot turn away from newsworthy claims.

But there are also days in which we get beat by competitors on stories that we cannot verify — occasionally because they're simply not true. Those lonely moments give a short-term reward for the wrong metric — speed over accuracy.

A still frame from the "deep fake" video in www.moondisaster.org.

Of these news values, accuracy is by far the most important. Verification, however, is both increasingly essential and difficult.

On the website www.moondisaster.org, you will see a video of President Richard Nixon giving a compelling speech about the loss of Apollo 11 on the face of the moon.

As we know, there was no disaster and there was no speech.

The video is what is called a “deep fake,” and it's an example created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to show that you can now watch a video of someone saying something they never said.

In fact, deep fakes apparently are widely made in pornography, creating videos with the likenesses of women who did not consent to their use.

That's disturbing.

Frightening, too, is the prospect that foreign adversaries (or U.S. campaigns, themselves) could right now be creating deep fakes that, if not detected, directly impact support for selected presidential or congressional candidates.

Detecting fake video is not always easy, but it's a more recent and evolving part of our role.

In 1916, our editor wrote that The Detroit News should be "accurate as far as human effort can obtain accuracy." Our goal remains to give you the first accurate news account, to be indispensable and reliable.

It’s a high standard. And we sometimes err. Although it was flagged in editing, the New York woman's account briefly appeared on our website.

A quarter-century ago on I-96, my big mistake was having failed to pay. I was in a hurry on Aug. 15, 1995, because I arrived home from work to hear several messages of increasing alarm on my answering machine.

Chad Snover, 28, died that night, and I couldn't be reached because I was with colleagues who were breaking a story they had been vigorously trying to verify.

I have long regretted my inaccessibility, but not our effort. It's what news readers expect and deserve.

Gary Miles is the editor and publisher of The Detroit News. He can be reached at (313) 222-2594 or gmiles@detroitnews.com.