The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
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.