July 08, 2004

EVEN MOGULS MAKE MISTAKES

How did the New York Post get it so wrong? The tabloid yesterday led with news that John Kerry was poised to name Dick Gephardt as his running mate -- only to be embarrassed when, within hours, Kerry named that lawyer kid instead.

Blame the boss.

Word among local News Corp. execs is that Rupert Murdoch himself was the source of the Gephardt scoop.

A Post desk editorís chronology of events apparently records a call from Murdoch at 9.58pm insisting that Gephardt would be named. Maintaining that chronology turns out to have been a smart move -- the following morning, so rumour has it, Lachlan Murdoch demanded to know who was responsible for the Gephardt blunder.

He was shown the desk editorís notes. No further questions were asked.

UPDATE. The New York Daily News hammers on Post ed-in-chief Col Allan:

Though Allan was said to have personally approved the Gephardt front page, he pinned the error on the supposed source or sources, which the unbylined account did not attribute.

Allan "made the decision after the Post received information it believed to be correct," according to a statement from the Post.

The Post's first edition yesterday led with a Long Island fire. However, about 10 p.m. Monday, Allan apparently put the goof on the front page for later editions.

Hmm. Iím told Col wasnít in New York while this edition was being put together.

UPDATE II. Also from the Daily News:

The glaring absence of a byline on the story suggested no reporter wanted to be connected to Allan's Hail Mary headline, "KERRY'S CHOICE: Dem picks Gephardt as VP candidate."

This may be more a clue to Murdoch's involvement. One of the many Murdoch biographies tells the story of Murdoch phoning in a front-page lead, possibly to The Australian. It ran under the byline: "By a special correspondent", or something similar. I'll try to find it.

UPDATE. Here it is, from page 172 of William Shawcrossís biography:

In February 1976 Murdoch himself wrote an extraordinary scoop in The Australian. He reported that just before the election, Whitlam had met in Sydney with two Iraqi officials from whom the Labor Party was soliciting funds. Many Labor Party supporters saw Murdoch as such a Satanic figure that they instantly dismissed the revelation as a lie. However, the meeting had taken place and the Sun News Pictorial, a rival paper, carried it also.

Describing the same event, Richard Belfield, Christopher Hird, and Sharon Kelly in Murdoch: The Great Escape write (page 52):

Murdoch [took] personal control over the story, checking the facts and writing the copy. The byline when the first instalment appeared in the Daily Telegraph and The Australian was 'a special correspondent.'

Posted by Tim Blair at July 8, 2004 02:31 AM
Comments

This is ideal for the Post -- their circulation will skyrocket because of this. during the past few years a number of gaffes have appeared on the pages of the Post in their attempt to bury the Daily News. Despite numerous inaccuracies, the strategy has worked because folks see the Post as a tabloid rather than a newspaper. A classic example was the 'Mike Piazza is gay' rumor that was propogated by the paper about two years ago. The rumor was completely unsubstantiated yet the Post would not retract. Two of their most notable sports columnists resigned over it (the eds would not let them run rebuttals that challenged the gossip side of the house). Ultimately, the circulation just increased.

First to report, first to correct

Posted by: Tim at July 8, 2004 at 02:36 AM

Is Allan being sold the dump (a.k.a. being set up)? If so, by whom?

Posted by: CurrencyLad at July 8, 2004 at 02:52 AM

I think Zuckerman and his minions over at the NY Daily News had a hand in this, whether it went through Rupert or not. His paper has been whacking away at them lately about getting stories wrong (when the Post called the Red Sox AL champs last year, they just totally lost every sports fan in this city), and the whole thing reeks of guerrilla (sp?) warfare.

Posted by: TC-LeatherPenguin at July 8, 2004 at 03:08 AM

Do tabloid readers care about the accuracy of the stories they read? I wouldn't have thought integrity was a big factor for readers who are picking up a tabloid rag with big headlines, large pictures and cute blondes. The Post is not in competition with the NYT or USA Today - it is in competition with The National Enquirer and the rest of the gutter press, who have never given a hoot about the truth.

Posted by: Ari at July 8, 2004 at 03:16 AM

The word here is that it was Rupert's doing. Another word here is that Col has been hinting that he wouldn't mind joining the board, bagging some other lofty executive position, or maybe even tackling the London Sun if Rupert wants to keep him in the trenches. Personally, I don't believe a word of it, no matter how often you hear variations of it at events where Australians gather. But if a head has to roll, those rumours will do nicely as a cover for getting Col up and out.

And it's unfair to pin too much blame to the Post for the Red Sox scre-up. They had two stories set, depending on the game's result, and a production forman hit the wrong button and sent the wrong page to the plant.

Posted by: big apple expat at July 8, 2004 at 03:55 AM

Just a wild theory, but suppose that there was a mole in the Kerry campaign, and that this person was leaking confidential information to the press. What better way would there be to tie a tin can to his/her tail?

Posted by: Ernie G at July 8, 2004 at 04:43 AM

The Post's competition is the Daily News and Newsday, and to a lesser extent the NY Sun, which is horning in on the high-middle market between the Post and the Wall Street Journal.

Murdoch being the guy who got the wrong 'scoop' does have a certain "Citizen Kane" air to it.

Posted by: Crank at July 8, 2004 at 05:39 AM

Some of Tim's links required registration, so I couldn't read them. But on Tuesday our paper carried a New York Times story saying that Kerry was going to name his running mate:


Senior Democrats identified the top three contenders for the position as Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, and Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa. Kerry's aides reported that placards had been printed with at least three versions of the Democratic ticket: Kerry-Edwards, Kerry-Gephardt, and Kerry-Vilsack, though they acknowledged that Kerry could still surprise even them with a different selection.

There's a short article in The Scotsman which mentions the placards too.

Think one of Murdoch's spies saw a Kerry-Gephardt placard and, having not read the Times, didn't know about the dodge?

Posted by: Angie Schultz at July 8, 2004 at 05:41 AM

Might the Post have intentionally messed up? It's already considered gutter trash (see above) and you can't put a price on all of this free publicity.

Posted by: Zach at July 8, 2004 at 06:05 AM

Im waiting for the Washington Post to get one thing right. Or for them to correct one of their thousand daily occuring errors.

Posted by: papertiger at July 8, 2004 at 08:05 AM

I read both the NY Post and the NY Times daily and I must say that the Post is a very entertaining read.

Most importantly, the Post carries several syndicated columnists who are quite good--serious, intellectual, and effective writers.

Apart from their Page Six feature and Liz Smith's gossip column, I don't think it's anywhere near the National Enquirer.

I saw both the Daily News and Post covers this morning and while the News did 'take the piss', the Post was also humorously self-effacing. They even ran a photo of the (then) Chicago Daily Tribune's 1948 "Dewey Defeats Truman" headline to admit the mistake and put it in context.

Context: We fucked up. I wish the NY Times, the Washington Post, and all other media were as honest and forthcoming.

Posted by: JDB at July 8, 2004 at 09:33 AM

The New York Post lied! Gephardt cried! 'Cos he would settle at this point for Vice-President.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at July 8, 2004 at 10:31 AM

Do tabloid readers care about the accuracy of the stories they read?

Yes. Of course they do. Why wouldn't they?

Do readers of sanctimonious liberal broadsheets care about the accuracy of the stories they read?

Do liberals who read Michael Moore books and watch his 'documentaries' care about accuracy?

The tabloid screwed up big time in this case, but the liberal media spins its little webs of deception every day.

Posted by: ilibcc at July 8, 2004 at 12:14 PM

The talking heads on MSNBC disclosed that the signs held by campaign workers at the big announcement rally had "Kerry Graham" on one side and "Kerry Edwards" on the side towards the cameras. I have a pastiche at here.

Posted by: Cracker Barrel Philosopher at July 9, 2004 at 02:25 PM