The L.A. Times Embarrasses Itself Again

The second thing I saw tonight, courtesy of Hugh Hewitt, was this astonishing story of misreporting at the Los Angeles Times:

A quote in a fake news release that was intended as an April Fool’s joke ended up in a front-page story in the Los Angeles Times.

The story in Tuesday’s editions of the Times noted how successful the reintroduction of wolves had been 10 years ago, but said the predators remained controversial.

“In Wyoming, for example, Gov. Dave Freudenthal last April decreed that the Endangered Species Act is no longer in force and that the state ‘now considers the wolf as a federal dog,’ unworthy of protection,” the story read.

The Times printed a correction Wednesday, acknowledging that the news release was a hoax.

“The reporter saw it on the Internet and had talked with the governor in the past, so she was familiar enough with the way he talks and writes that she thought it sounded authentic, and she didn’t check, which she should have,” Times Deputy Metro Editor David Lauter told the Casper Star Tribune.

“We hate when this kind of thing happens, and we correct it as quickly as we can,” Lauter said.

Apart from the story’s obvious entertainment value, here are a few observations on this fiasco:

First, the story quoted above is from the Associated Press, meaning it will gain much wider circulation than the usual newspaper correction, which is buried deep inside the paper and seen by few.

Second, in order to appreciate what a monumental blunder this was, you really have to read the original story, which is available here (registration required). The theme of the article is that the reintroduction of wolves into the wild has been a big success, but they are still endangered by ignorant yahoos who try to shoot them. The bogus quote from the Governor of Wyoming plays a key role in the story:

But now, as the Fish and Wildlife Service ponders a delisting plan that would turn over management of the wolves to the states, federal officials are balking at plans they fear would allow hunters to exterminate whole packs.

In Wyoming, for example, Gov. Dave Freudenthal last April decreed that the Endangered Species Act is no longer in force and that the state “now considers the wolf as a federal dog,” unworthy of protection. The governor’s declaration reflects the views of hunters and ranchers that the wolves are decimating elk herds and devouring cattle and sheep.

So the April Fool’s Day story showed up as an important element in an article that was printed on the front page of the Times.

Third, the error is so ridiculous on its face that it reveals both the bias and the ignorance that afflict both the Times’ reporters and its editors, who not only read and approved the article, but decided it was important enough to put on the front page. Think about it: the Times reported that the Governor of Wyoming decreed that the Endangered Species Act “is no longer in force” in his state. That is simply absurd, and it reflects the paper’s profound ignorance of the world on which it seeks to report. The Times reporter not only failed to realize that the quote was ridiculous, but deemed it so inherently credible that she printed it based on an internet search that she didn’t bother to verify. How could that happen? It happened because the editors and reporters at the Los Angeles Times take it for granted that people who live in weird states like Wyoming are dangerously ignorant yahoos who need to be taken in hand by the federal bureaucracy.

This incident sheds some much-needed light into the operation of a very troubled news organization.


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