When police raided the West Village apartment of Morgan Gliedman and Aaron Greene on Saturday, the New York Post was first to the story.
It was the sort of story that was right in the Post‘s wheelhouse. Gliedman, 27, nine months pregnant, the daughter of a prominent doctor and the product of a Park-Avenue-and-Dalton upbringing, and Greene, a Harvard alumnus, caught in a filthy den of drugs, decadence, and bomb-making materials just blocks from the townhouse where Weather Underground bomb-makers accidentally blew themselves up decades before.
The story also had another element that appears to becoming a Post signature: citing anonymous sources, apparently from within the NYPD, Post reporters Jamie Schram, Antonio Antenucci, and Matt McNulty reported that Greene had ties to Occupy Wall Street. The assertion was right up top in the story’s lead sentence:
“The privileged daughter of a prominent city doctor, and her boyfriend — a Harvard grad and Occupy Wall Street activist — have been busted for allegedly having a cache of weapons and a bombmaking explosive in their Greenwich Village apartment.”
The Occupy association was quickly picked up and rebroadcast by both Reuters and the Associated Press.
Needless to say, the Occupy angle was red meat to FBI-informant-turned-right-wing-bloviator Brandon Darby, who used the link to justify the recent revelation (dropped on the deadest Friday afternoon of the year) that the FBI had indeed been centrally involved in nationwide surveillance of the Occupy movement.
The thing is, the story didn’t hold up. People involved in Occupy Wall Street had no memory of ever encountering Greene. And by the first afternoon, the Occupy link was already being stepped back in the media. As the Associated Press reported, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly suggested that the question of radical affiliations was still open:
“No political writings were discovered, and Kelly said the investigation was continuing into whether the couple had any larger plans or ties to any radical groups.”
That evening, the Daily Beast called the whole scenario into question with a post entitled “NY Couple Not Terrorists, Say Cops, Just Rich Kids With Drug Habits”
By the next day, the NYPD was in the Times fully contradicting the Post’s initial Occupy claims:
“But the police said they did not believe that Mr. Greene was active in any political movements.”
Even so, activists, say, the damage had already been done. None of the outlets ran corrections, and most of the initial stories are still online.
It’s worth noting that this isn’t the first time that the Post — and more specifically, Schram, one of its top cop reporters — has been a conduit for vaguely sourced and ultimately baseless police claims linking scary high-profile crimes to Occupy Wall Street.
In July, Schram co-authored a cover story for the Post under the screaming front-page headline “OWS Murder Link,” citing the claims of anonymous sources that the cold-case murder of a jogger in Inwood had been linked by DNA to a chain used to hold open subway doors during a fare strike by transit workers and Occupy activists last winter. The local NBC affiliate did the same.
That story too was quickly rolled back, as officials conceded that in fact the match was far more likely to have resulted from sloppy lab work, but not before the fabricated link had been picked up by media outlets far and wide.
Occupy Wall Street is now pushing back. An online petition decrying the Post story is approaching 1,000 signatures.
Some activists see a pattern emerging, in which the NYPD uses it’s cozy relationship with the Post to put out anonymous slanders of a nonviolent social-justice movement without having to get its hands dirty.
Whether or not that’s the case, the fact that his has happened twice now raises real questions about the Post’s policies governing the use of anonymous law-enforcement sources and its commitment to correcting factually inaccurate reporting.
Kelly McBride, the senior ethics faculty at the Poynter Institute, told the Voice the Post is definitely doing this wrong:
“In a case like this, the best practices would suggest that The Post is definitely obligated to correct their mistake, both by updating the online version of the story and noting the error, as well as printing a correction in the paper to inform people who saw the mistake there.”
We emailed both Schram and the Post’s PR office for comment, but haven’t heard back yet. We’ll update the post if we do.