Media

The New York Post’s Newsroom: On Edge and Under Hot Water After Correction Boils Over

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We received a tip earlier this afternoon: “Heads might roll” by the end of the day at the New York Post‘s Metro desk, as they’re in crisis mode after a humiliating correction was published this morning in the paper. Even more, that The Rage of (Post-owner) Rupert Murdoch is fueling it. What’s going on over there?

On Monday, the New York Post published a story about “Bronx wife-killer” Johnny Concepcion, who reportedly confessed to the crime of killing his wife via text message, and then took rat poison in an attempted suicide. The crux of the Post‘s story was that Concepcion was taken to New York-Presbyterian Hospital and given a liver transplant. The story has since been scrubbed from the Post‘s site, though it’s still available to read thanks to Google Cache.

That’s because this morning, a correction was published in the Post after Reuters’ Health writer Frederik Joelving broke the news that the crux of the story — about Concepcion’s supposed liver transplant — was entirely incorrect. The correction passed the buck to the Post’s police sources (“The Post relied on two NYPD sources for its report, and it is now evident they were misinformed”) and also featured some clenched-teeth hostility toward the hospital in the kicker:

Prior to publishing the story, The Post sought official response from New York-Presbyterian. The Post was denied information by the hospital, which stated it could not discuss individual cases because it would be in breach of the Health Information Privacy Act (HIPA). Curiously, the hospital now sees itself free to publicly discuss Concepcion’s case.

We hear it’s not the only hostility coming from the Post newsroom today, however, and that someone might be fired by the end of the day. Why?

A tipster tells us that Rupert Murdoch was so enthralled with the story when it ran, that he called Post editor-in-chief Col Allan to personally congratulate him on it. Logic would follow, then, that Murdoch called Col Allan to personally deliver his rage and desire to see an ax drop at some point today, sending everyone involved with the story into crisis mode, we heard. A Post reporter who asked to remain anonymous elaborated:

Right now, tensions are high in there. There’s a lot of wonder as to whether or not people are going to make it. That said, if you’re fired, you don’t get to see Col on the way out. I’m betting nobody’s getting fired.

But why all the stress if nobody’s going? Again, from a Post reporter:

The tip came from Col. This was Col’s tip. And when it’s Col’s tip, he wants the story to be true.

It’d make sense that the loud brouhaha is the result of a news chief trying to cover himself for passing down a bad tip by raging at his reporters. And as for who’s responsible for the language in that bitter correction?

“If it’s not Col Allan, that’s [Post managing editor] Jesse Angelo. Without a doubt.”

Without claiming legal expertise, the hospital might’ve had their hand forced into issuing a denial that the Post‘s story was untrue as to not run up against any legal trouble of their own (thereby allowing breach of the Health Information Privacy Act, their original reasoning for not giving quote to the Post).

We tried reaching out to Allan and Angelo for a quote, and were told by an assistant they were in a meeting, before we were referred to NYP press rep Howard Rubenstein. Asked to comment on the newsroom being in crisis mode, suspicions were confirmed: “When a significant error is made by the Post, they make significant inquiries as to how and why the error was made so that it wouldn’t happen again. That’s what’s happening right now.” As to why the story was taken down (as opposed to having a correction appended, like most other publications would), Rubenstein explained that “It was inaccurate. That’s why. They felt that the story was a major error, they didn’t want to promote that, they apologized, they indicated what happened, and they took it down. They think they did the right thing in taking it down.” He stonewalled us on potential repercussions for (the beleaguered) Allan or his reporters (“It’s an internal matter, and [Allan] will not comment about it”) and issued an out-and-out denial via Allan on Murdoch’s involvement: “The tip did not come from Col Allan. He absolutely wants all the stories to be accurate, absolutely correct. Rupert Murdoch did not call him to praise him or praise the story.”

Whatever’s going on there, it doesn’t sound like the outcome — short-term or otherwise — is going to be good, and they’re going to want to scramble to keep The Brass as happy as they can while they’re under hot water. Reporting on rival papers’ owners and their real estate purchases as this is all happening, for example, might be entirely coincidental. Or a small, transparent squeak of allegiance. But by the end of the day, it looks like someone’s gonna need to be put “on ice.” For better or otherwise.

[fkamer@villagevoice.com]

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