Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Why did a NY Daily News article on O’Keefe
disappear and then reappear on its site?

And why has a second false article
not been corrected or retracted?

Many reporters and news outlets have been scrambling lately to avoid a lawsuit by activist-videographer James O’Keefe. They’re issuing corrections or retractions to their published false claims that he was charged by the FBI with “bugging” and/or “wiretapping” during his recent service call to Senator Mary Landrieu’s Louisiana office. But even as the press backtracks, the slanderous statements are being widely (and wildly) repeated.

Some sources are correcting themselves voluntarily, and some after on-air haranguing and corporate reprimands. These include The Washington Post, MSNBC’s David Shuster, Talking Points Memo, CBS News, and the Associated Press.

And some are doing it… well, not at all.  The N.Y. Daily News, for instance.

James Gordon Meek, a serious-looking member of the Daily News’ Washington bureau, has filed two stories about the O’Keefe arrest. He has also chortled with his colleagues about the matter on Twitter.

One of his articles states that O’Keefe was “popped by the FBI Tuesday on charges of bugging”; and that “as the bogus hardhats tried to bug an office phone, O’Keefe held up a cell phone “…so as to record Flanagan and Basel,” the FBI said.” (Emphasis mine.)

So here in one article are two instances of clear and unqualified claims by Meek of FBI bugging charges, when in fact no such charges were made, according to the widely-circulated four-page affidavit by the FBI’s Special Agent Steven Rayes and the DOJ press release Meek links to.

Meek’s article is the subject of a correction request sent by Andrew Breitbart’s Big Journalism to the Daily News, but which a lawyer for the paper denied receiving in a telephone conversation with me late Monday. (Perhaps this is because the request may have been delivered by an alpaca.)

But Meek cannot pretend ignorance of the correction request, because I tweeted him a link to it Sunday at 12:38 PM (@meekwire), and encouraged readers of Big Journalism to do the same in comments on the very page I sent him. Did he run to his lawyers with it? Or did he keep it from them? I wonder what a journalist is supposed to do in such a case.

The second Meek piece is the really curious one, the one to which this post’s headline refers to. Since both pieces are dated the same day, minutes apart, I will refer to them as the “news” article (which Breitbart & Co. complained about), and the “blog” article:

The “blog” item was published in the paper’s Washington bureau blog, “Mouth of the Potomac.” It is dated January 26, and has been appended twice in such a way that the updates appear to have been made that same day (the page is, after all, dated January 26, and no further dates appear on the page). Neither update is initialed or attributed, so one can only conclude that they were written by Meek, since they appear under his byline.

“UPDATE 2” makes reference to press reports now being disputed (but not referred to as false). But instead of squarely responding to the correction request or to O’Keefe’s dispute (something the very best papers and journalists do routinely), Meek justifies and makes excuses for his wording, without actually correcting himself or even backing away. Gee, now it seems the reports only said O’Keefe was “possibly” trying to wiretap. Of course, no such qualification was made in many of them, including Meek’s.

Read “UPDATE 2” carefully. It is not a correction, or a retraction, and it does not quote or link to Meek’s news report. It says “we wanted to clarify our reporting” but it actually does no such thing.  Other articles by the Daily News requiring corrections are appended on the same page with the word “Correction” in bold type. Not so with either of Meek’s reports.

“UPDATE 2” was not, in fact, added on January 26 as the article makes it appear. A Google cache of that page, dated January 31, 2010 at 9:46 PM GMT, and which I have captured, does not include “UPDATE 2.” This proves conclusively that “UPDATE 2” was added either late Sunday, or, more likely, early Monday, February 1.  Note that the first update is actually time-stamped 6:15 PM.

In other words, “UPDATE 2” only appeared after I had been goosing Meek about it via Twitter. (I’m just saying.)

Curiously, the blog article mysteriously disappeared from the paper’s Web site late Monday; the link resulted in a “Page not found” error at NYDailyNews.com. I had seconds before done a thorough screen capture and Google cache of the article, so it was quite astonishing when the link appeared to be scrubbed.  I sent a cryptic tweet to Meek stating “u can scrub but u can't hide...” It may have tipped him off; an hour later, the link to the article was suddenly live again.

It gets stranger. I had never come across the blog item during several searches of the paper’s site the past two days. I only stumbled upon it following a tiny “bit.ly” URL which showed up in one of Meek’s tweets. I had been ready to swear that the blog was published late Sunday or early yesterday, and fraudulently backdated January 26. But I realized I may have been wrong.

Still, a Google search of both articles’ exact headlines (in quotes) results in this:

The offending “news” article, published January 26 at 4:47 PM:
"ACORN prankster, James O’Keefe, arrested for incident at Senator Mary Landrieu’s office"about 433 results, linking to sites all over the Web
The non-offending “blog” article, ostensibly published January 26 at 4:08 PM:
"FBI: ACORN Gotcha Guy Busted For Buggin' Landrieu"1 result, the original article at the Daily News)
(Oops – did I say non-offending? Take a good look at the blog headline. “Busted For Buggin’” – get it?)

What does this Google search prove – I mean absolutely prove? Only this: Absolutely no one reads the Daily News’ “Mouth of the Potomac” blog.

Why is the slanderous news article all over the Web, and the slightly more cautious blog article virtually non-existent? For a while, I thought I had evidence that the blog piece was, in fact, published on January 31 and fictitiously backdated January 26.

Except for only one thing: I Googled the blog’s full URL (in quotes), and found exactly two results. One appeared in a tweet yesterday, and the only other appearance of that link occurred in a comment at The Atlantic, by a poster named BigRedDog. Dog makes a point of giving “NYDailyNews” credit for his scoop.

Dog’s link was posted exactly 90 minutes after the blog was published. (Now, who could have known about that blog… We know hardly anyone reads it…)

Snarkiness aside, this really isn’t about online shenanigans, or about blogs no one reads. It is about widely disseminated, but false, news reports that are easily corrected, and even more easily avoided in the first place.  It is about careless gossip by people receiving salaries for playing at journalism.

Meek’s non-retraction “retraction” blog is getting no coverage on the Internet. (That might change.) But his news article, the one that is being read, tweeted, and linked to, clearly reports non-existent FBI bugging charges. It is false.

Meek did not return my voicemail or e-mail Monday, but I did catch him by phone briefly in the paper’s Washington office. I identified myself and said I was calling about his story on the O’Keefe arrest. He knew exactly who I was.  He said it was a bad time, he was working on a deadline. I asked him when would be a better time to speak.

“I don’t think I ever want to get into it with you,” he said, ending the call.

I am sending him a link to this article as soon as I publish it online. I will also send it to the lawyer I spoke to.

A woman identifying herself by phone as attorney Anne Carroll from the Daily News, responded from home to a voicemail and e-mail I had left for another lawyer in her department, Dan Murphy.

She stated that she knew nothing about this and had “not received, nor has Dan Murphy, a request for a retraction.” She listened as I read out bits of the article to her, and even tried herself to find wiggle room in some of the other quotes.  She then asked me for a link to the correction request, and I promised her I’d send it (but didn’t say when).

“I will take care of this tomorrow,” she said as we ended the call.

It would be (or should I say will be) interesting to know who at the Daily News received Big Journalism’s request. Breitbart’s lead on this effort, Alexander Marlowe, an associate editor for Breitbart (and sometime alpaca named “Retracto”), is racking up quite a list of news organizations to which he is writing frightfully polite and sometimes effective letters.

Let’s see if he can check one more off his list.

Watch this page for frequent live updates as they develop. Must credit Paul Klenk, LoudCitizen.org. Please excerpt and link here.

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