Anatomy of an Error: Why Nobody Got Fired From the New York Post This Week
We reported Wednesday on the turmoil an embarrassing New York Post correction caused in the newsroom, fueled by what we heard was rage called down from the top: News Corp owner Rupert Murdoch. Fun times. We've now got more details on what happened, and what came of it.
The Post ran a classic outrage story on Monday about Johnny Concepcion of the Bronx, who confessed over text message to killing his wife before taking rat poison in an attempted suicide. The story didn't revolve around the killing, instead focusing on how Concepcion was reportedly taken to New York-Presbyterian Hospital, and given a liver transplant ahead of everyone on their waiting list. Soon after, Reuters' Health writer Frederik Joelving broke the news that Concepcion didn't receive said transplant, which was followed by the Post scrubbing the story from their website (which you can still read thanks to Google Cache) and issuing an angry correction in Wednesday's paper.
And then we heard from sources on Wednesday, one of whom is a Post reporter:
- Rupert Murdoch was so thrilled with the story when it first ran, he personally called in praise to Post editor-in-chief Col Allan. Once he heard the story's crux was completely inaccurate, he personally called in fury to Post editor-in-chief Col Allan, looking for blood.
- Tensions ran high at the Post's Metro desk on Wednesday, as all of the reporters and editors involved with the story were waiting to see if any firings were to take place. Our source didn't think this would happen. Why?
- Because we were told that the tip for the story came directly from Col Allan himself, and that either Allan or managing editor Jesse Angelo personally wrote the language in that clenched-teeth correction, which shifted blame for the faulty story onto police sources and Presbyterian Hospital.
What's happened since then?
For one thing, we heard that one of the major errors in reporting the story involved a miscommunication between the Post and DCPI, the NYPD's public relations arm (the Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Public Information). The Post reached out to DCPI to confirm their story, and DCPI played coy, telling the Post they'd get back to them. Somehow, the message ended up in edit as a de facto confirmation that the Post jumped the gun on. We're told that the Post -- incredibly -- still isn't totally convinced they were wrong.
Yet other than what was characterized to us by our tipster as a casual confab Wednesday evening that involved Jesse Angelo, Post city editor Michelle Gotthelf, Jeane MacIntosh [one of three bylined reporters on the story], and [Post NYPD reporter] Larry Celona to "figure out what happened and assess the situation," nothing has happened to the jobs of any of the reporters or editors involved. Nobody was fired, nobody's resignations were tendered, and nobody was suspended. It doesn't look like anybody's going to be. Why?
Maybe all was forgiven and the Post just wanted to put it behind them.
Maybe blame was spread so thin, no heads could justifiably be lobbed off.
Or maybe it's as simple as the most plausible explanation, the one reiterated to us by our source:
"The tip came from Col. That's why nobody was fired."
The buck went all the way up to the top, and stopped there. A firing on an order called down would only further embarrass Allan and the Post if news that someone took the hit for a mistake that came from above got out. So everyone's safe for now, supposedly.
It certainly wouldn't be the first instance of Allan passing a bad tip to Gotthelf for chasing, like that time he had her falsely report Elaine Kaufman's death. It'd make sense that a story was published in haste -- with disregard for all the normal failsafe processes when factchecking -- if the order to follow a hot tip came down from the top.
Regarding Rupert Murdoch's calls to Col Allan before and after the story ran that Rubenstein adamantly denied? Again, from our source: "That did happen. Absolutely."
Rather than suggest the incredible notion that a reporter here was lied to by a publicist, let's put it like this: Howard Rubenstein is one of the most successful flacks in the history of New York City, and was once called "the dean of damage control" by Rudy Giuliani. Why would Allan or Murdoch want to do anything but save face here? It'd be surprising if Rubenstein even posed the question to them.
As for the possibility of this instance being the straw that breaks Col Allan's tenure with the Post, our source shrugged:
"Col's tenure as editor at the Post is coming to a close, and it certainly wouldn't surprise me if this does it. [Post managing editor Jesse] Angelo's gotta move up in the world. They're gonna wanna keep him around, since he practically runs the paper anyway. But it's not likely they're gonna axe Col over this instance. If they wanted to get rid of Col, they would've done it a while ago. If he can survive the monkey cartoon, he's fine. Rupert [Murdoch] will always take care of him. As long as Rupert's alive, Col will always be fine."