Bloomberg Law Finally Retracts Its False and Misleading Story about Leif Olson

Editor: "We failed to meet our editorial standards for fairness and accuracy"

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Yesterday I blogged about the latest development in Bloomberg Law's false and misleading story about Leif Olson. Frank Bednarz and Ted Frank of the Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute submitted a FOIA request to the Department of Labor for all communications with Penn. They obtained emails which showed that Penn mischaracterized Olson's Facebook posts. At the end of my post, I wrote:

Bloomberg should add a clear disclaimer at the top of the article, stating that the organization retracts all claims. There is no reason to stand behind this story. Bloomberg has already assaulted Leif's character; at least it can rehabilitate his Google footprint.

Today at 3:35 PM, Bloomberg Law retracted the article:

Bloomberg Law has retracted this article, published on Sept. 3. In reporting on a series of social media posts from Department of Labor official Leif Olson, we failed to meet our editorial standards for fairness and accuracy. We regret that lapse and apologize to our readers and to Mr. Olson.

Kudos to Bloomberg. This retraction should not have taken a month, but I am glad they finally reached the correct decision. This incident should counsel other reporters and editors to avoid the "surfacing social media" crusades. These sorts of articles are designed solely to destroy someone's reputation, and not provide a balanced account of their reputation. Stop them.

Update: Erik Wemple of the Washington Post has more details about Bloomberg's retraction. First Bloomberg contends that the timing of this decision was not connected to the FOIA requests:

A note to staff from Editor in Chief Cesca Antonelli strikes some of the same notes, pledging to strengthen "policies and processes." According to the top editor, the retraction comes at the end of protracted review: "We received several complaints about our story. We took the complaints seriously and have spent the last few weeks reviewing our coverage and our editorial processes. We addressed these issues with all staff involved. The last of our review meetings was conducted yesterday afternoon."

Perhaps Antonelli was so specific about the review meetings because of the quirky timing of the retraction. On Thursday afternoon, attorney Ted Frank, head of litigation at the Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute, posted the results of a FOIA request that he and the institute's Frank Bednarz had submitted:

David Peikin, director of corporate communications for Bloomberg Industry Group, tells the Erik Wemple Blog that the retraction's timing was "unrelated" to the FOIA release.

Wemple also reveals some insights on the timing of Penn's original story. Recall that Penn's original story included a quote from Olson, who said the post was sarcastic. Wemple poses the question:

The Erik Wemple Blog asked Bloomberg Law when this interview took place. The timing matters because Olson put Bloomberg Law on notice that the posts were sarcastic. According to an informed source, Olson shared this information with Penn on Saturday, Aug. 31, meaning that Bloomberg Law had a few days before the Sept. 3 publication date to review the Facebook material for satire. Somehow it just proceeded with its judgment that the posts were anti-Semitic.

Let's hope that review of procedures and processes covers Labor Day weekend at Bloomberg Law.

In other words, Leif had told Bloomberg that the posts were sarcastic (they obviously were) and still published the story. There was a complete breakdown in journalistic standards here.

 

 

 

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  1. “This retraction should not have taken a month, but I am glad they finally reached the correct decision. This incident should counsel other reporters and editors to avoid the “surfacing social media” crusades. These sorts of articles are designed solely to destroy someone’s reputation, and not provide a balanced account of their reputation. Stop them.”

    Another edition of Journalism Pointers From Right-Wing Law Professors?

    1. You tell ’em, Arthur. Journalists (and former journalists) like Arthur and Ben Penn don’t need these types of pointers, right Arthur?

      1. You lost. Made a fool of yourself in yesterday’s story.
        But cannot help being a thug. Out of control.

        1. Trolls white knighting trolls.

    2. That’s right, attack the messenger while ignoring the message. Maybe you can go through the Instagram accounts of the commenters.

      1. It appears Bloomberg made a mistake, admitted it, retracted the material, and should strive to avoid repetition of that mistake.

        The Volokh Conspiracy, which stridently defended Mr. Olson because it generally shares his stale and intolerant thinking rather than because of any great understanding or respect for journalism standards, is a poor candidate to provide pointers on publication standards to anyone.

        1. It appears Bloomberg published a lie, and then kept it out there as long as their legal department thought safe, then did a minimal retraction while retaining the guy they’d paid to construct the lie, because he after all had only done what he was being paid to do.

        2. If Josh Blackman had saved Leif Olson from a burning building that Ben Penn had torched, the Rev. would be making dark implications about how Blackman only did it because he agrees with Olson’s Right-Wing views.

      2. The “message” here being… what, exactly?

  2. The REALLY crushes 86% of the commenters on yesterday’s story.
    (goody, goody)

    1. You wrote 86% of the commentary on yesterday’s story.

      1. MORE PSYCHO LIES? ANOTHER REVENGE POSTING?

        I HAD 12 OUT OF 3O, AND HALF OF THEM WERE SELF-DEFENSE FROM UNPROVOKED ASSAULTS … LIKE YOURS HERE.

        THIS LINK STARTS THE THREAD WHERE YOU ARE PROVEN A LIAR AND A BULLY ,…. THREE TIMES … AS PATHETIC AS THIS ONE.
        https://reason.com/2019/10/03/ben-penns-false-and-misleading-email-to-the-department-of-labor/#comment-7958534

        ** STOP ** STALKING ** ME ** FOR ** REVENGE, ** THUG

        1. And almost 50% of this one.

          1. ALSO SELF-DEFENSE, RETARD, FROM YOUR REVENGE POSTING!.
            He is NOT the brightest bulb on string, this talking assault thug,

            1. I wonder if you are one of those pathetic people who have to get in the last word, no matter how inane.

              1. He runs away when you point out logical flaws or make him a joke. Then he adds you to a list.

              2. The first words were inane, then the intensity gets dialed up. This is an “over-the-top” setting going from 11 to somewhere in the mid-30’s.

                However, he helpfully puts the parts that can be ignored in bold.

            2. Ooh, “assault thug”. I’m keeping that.

        2. “I HAD 12 OUT OF 3O”

          If you count the posts. But if you count the number of words in the posts, you’re easily > 92% of the words, because you are incapable of getting to the point without a half-dozen sidetracks of verbal diarrhea.

  3. “Correction to the correction – the story met our standards, but our standards suck. You could hardly call them standards at all, really.”

  4. Note to reporters:

    Beware of writing any piece that uses the social media postings of a friend of the conservative blog-o-sphere. As one member of this group has warned, “These sorts of articles are designed solely to destroy someone’s reputation, and not provide a balanced account of their reputation. Stop them.” All articles written about members or friends of this group must now meet the standard of “balanced account ” The decision of whether an account is “balanced” will be made by members of the blog-o-sphere. They decide whether an article about one of their friends is balanced, and if it is not, the full might of their platforms, FOIA filings, and cross-links will be used to destroy your reputation (the “balance” standard doesn’t apply to you, that’s not how it works).

    That shiver that your currently feeling is the chilling effect that this warning is meant to have on speech. Just do as they say though. They are in charge now.

    1. “They are in charge now.”

      The Illuminati? They’ve *always* been in charge.

      Not always by that name, of course. Sometimes they go by names like Templars, Rosicrucians and Rotarians. But they’re all tentacles cut from the same sinister calamari.

      1. Great, now I’m hungry.

        1. I’ve always wanted to make spaghetti with a box of rotarian noodles. And maybe a side salad with some crunchy herbed rosicrucians sprinkled on it.

    2. Considering QuantumBoxCat is now exposed as a drive-by assassin, for his lengthy pack of lies, in yesterday’s piece.

      https://reason.com/2019/10/03/ben-penns-false-and-misleading-email-to-the-department-of-labor/#comment-7958352

      There IS justice in the world! Occasionally,

    3. You are upset the conservative blogosphere is now 20-1000 in it’s wars with the mainstream media?

      To be sure there are some big wins in there, Rathergate, Kavenaugh, Covington, but for the most part unless it’s an absolute slam dunk, fair play is dead.

      1. In general, conservatives lose reasoned debate because they deserve to lose.

        The race does not always go to the swiftest, nor the contest to the strongest, nor the debate to the better argument . . . but that is the way smart money bets.

        1. This blog is full of win standing up for free speech. Not sure what you’re beefing on about.

          You, you could have used you to savage the ACLU back in the 70s when they defended marching Nazis, given transparently they must have supported the speech itself, and claiming defending free speech itself was just a lying cover for a dying philosophy.

      2. The idea that there is any “war” to be had here is, in itself, a remarkable delusion. If the conservative blogsophere thinks it’s engaged in any such thing, all the more reason to disregard it.

        The Bloomberg story is yet another example of “media bias in the eyes of conservatives,” where “media bias” really means, “not enough context was provided to permit readers to reach the particular conclusions we think they should reach.” And the great harm here is a resignation that came unusually and suspiciously swiftly, if the conservatives’ preferred reading of events is to be credited. It just makes no sense for a mis-reported sarcastic post to elicit the prompt resignation of any official, particularly one in the Trump administration.

        This is just a big, preposterous grievance-wank you all are having, and it’s a waste of time. Bloomberg probably shouldn’t have spent much time on this non-story, it’s true. But to tie it into some larger “war” involving a conservative blogosphere dominated by self-anointed warriors with no journalistic standards to speak of, to say nothing of their tenuous grasp of reality, is just preposterously silly. Go back to your safe rooms, you moronic snowflakes.

    4. Benn Penn speaks again. You should be fired.

  5. There was a complete breakdown in journalistic standards here.

    Yes; the retraction marks an utter breakdown in journalistic standards. The standard for the highest-prestige outlets of journalism is that you print your partisan lies boldly, and never ever back down even when video evidence proves them false. Bloomberg Law should be ashamed that it didn’t hold itself up to the standard of steadfastness-in-falsehood demonstrated by the New York Times.

    1. ^THIS ^THIS ^THIS

      The NYT is as wacked our crazy as Tucker, Judge Jeanine, Hannity and Ingraham — with 5x the audience.

    2. Disaffected, belligerent clingers are among my favorite hopeless, unattractive casualties of the culture war.

      1. “unattractive”

        Arthur, you’re beautiful and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

        http://clickhowto.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/internet-troll.jpg

        1. I try to avoid discussion of my movie star looks. They sometimes are a mixed blessing.

          Ted Kramer, for example, may have received a few Oscar votes from Academy members who resented my handsomeness.

          1. “I try to avoid discussion of my movie star looks. They sometimes are a mixed blessing.”

            Here’s some video of Arthur in his younger days…

          2. Technically, Boris Karloff was a movie star, and so was the guy in the Godzilla suit, so maybe you *do* have a face for Hollywood.

            Plus there’s your inner beauty.

              1. For the win … and justice for all…

      2. Those ACLU Nazi clingers back in the 70s, eh?

  6. “According to the top editor, the retraction comes at the end of protracted review: “We received several complaints about our story. We took the complaints seriously and have spent the last few weeks reviewing our coverage and our editorial processes.”

    But that’s not what they said. They said originally that they stood by their reporting, not that they were conducting a protracted review. The the foia comes out and they retract. People should remember this when reading other news stories as well.

    1. A Conspiracy fan and right-wing partisan ranting about publication standards and fairness . . . priceless.

      1. They weren’t expecting to be so totally humiliated.
        They’re now scurrying like cockroaches.
        It’s both heartening and sad.

      2. “A Conspiracy fan and right-wing partisan ranting about publication standards and fairness…”

        Arthur, I just want people to know that you were once a journalist, and that journalism is basically your comments on this blog with a little more polish.

  7. Yet the damage is done. People tend to read sensational headlines, not retractions.

  8. It is not hard to see why Trump gets so much mileage from his war on the media. Modern journalists are unelected, underserving, arrogant, conceited, deceptive, … , holders of immense power in the information age. They claim the monopoly right to tell the world what the truth is; facts notwithstanding.

    By the end of the 21st century, almost all wealth and power will rest in control of information, not gold or physical possessions. Yet we lack a foundational principle analogous to property rights, to apply to information. This is a crisis.

    1. The analogy is truth. That would be self-evident. If you weren’t so biased yourself. And if they hadn’t brought down Trump so totally.

  9. Olson resigned and they struck fear in the hearts of anybody contemplating working for the Trump administration. Bloomberg accomplished its mission. Their apology is worthless.

    Reason and Volokh haven’t quite sunk to the same level as Bloomberg, but they pretty much operate the same way.

    1. All who voluntarily work with or for Donald Trump (other than career civil servants attempting to survive to work for a better administration) deserve everything that is coming to them. The scorn, the investigations, the prosecutions, the punishments, the losses, the legal bills.

      Those who testify truthfully and completely, however, or act as genuine whistleblowers should benefit from a measure of leniency.

  10. I have no inside knowledge regarding what Mr. Olson may have said to Bloomberg Law or what its motivations were in finally, belatedly, retracting its story.

    However, I will point out that Mr. Olson was a Texas resident before moving to D.C. for this new job, and that a substantial portion of any damages he may have sustained from defamatory statements made by Bloomberg Law and its agent Penn would have accrued in Texas.

    The Texas Defamation Mitigation Act, Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §§ 73.051 to .058, passed in 2013, has a complicated dance whereby — in general but with some complicating twists:

    a defamation plaintiff’s right to sue depends on his first having made a written demand for retraction;

    such a plaintiff forever loses his rights to recover punitive damages unless such demand is made “not later than the 90th day after receiving knowledge of the publication”;

    a defendant’s “correction, clarification, or retraction is timely if it is made not later than the 30th day after receipt” of the retraction demand (or further substantiating information, if the defendant has timely requested that); and

    If “a correction, clarification, or retraction is made … regardless of whether the person claiming harm made a request, a person may not recover exemplary damages unless the publication was made with actual malice.”

    1. “a defamation plaintiff’s right to sue depends on his first having made a written demand for retraction”

      Presumably, truth remains an absolute and complete defense. If the guy was accused of “referencing anti-semitic tropes” and is quote accurately referencing anti-semitic tropes, there’s not much to hang a defamation suit on, regardless of whether the anti-semitic tropes were referenced in a positive or sarcastic manner.

      Friends and colleagues may be bummed because “referencing anti-semitic tropes” covers a wide range of behaviors, many of which are inoffensive, and they feel the actual behavior was trivial to not-even-rising-to-the-level-of-trivial, but this doesn’t mean anyone else has to take sides.

      1. Mr. Pollock, the point of my comment was to identify this statute as a possible explanation, in whole or part, for the making and timing of the retraction. I’m disinclined to argue with you about the relative strength or weakness of whatever defamation claims Mr. Olson may possess, but whether they’re strong or weak, this relatively new and not widely known statute certainly should have been something Bloomberg Law’s own defamation defense counsel were considering, and its timetables match up with this timeline.

      2. I’m not sure, (Genuinely not sure, not being sarcastic here.) whether the truth being an absolute and complete defense applies when something “truthful” is deliberately written in a misleading manner.

        I mean, you could equally “truthfully” write that Swift advocated cannibalism. But when your “truthful” report relies heavily on people not knowing that you’ve inverted the meaning of a statement by taking it out of context, does its truthfulness still constitute a defense?

        It appears to me that Bloomberg wasn’t confident that it would be.

  11. I am hoping this is the last time Josh chooses to beat this dead horse, but I am honestly not expecting it to be.

  12. “In other words, Leif had told Bloomberg that the posts were sarcastic (they obviously were) and still published the story.”

    Leif didn’t publish the story. The quality of writing by some of the lawyers here is often embarrassing to the profession.

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