Amanda Knox Is Guilty… Of Making Newspapers Jump The Gun On Guilty Headlines

from the dewey-beats-truman dept

Almost certainly the most famous case of incorrect headlines by a newspaper trying to rush to press early goes to the infamous Dewey Defeats Truman headline in the Chicago Tribune, published on November 3, 1948… which was, of course, actually the day that Truman defeated Dewey.

In our more “real time” news world, the quest to be “first” with a breaking news story can lead newspapers to do interesting things. It’s no secret, of course, that many news organizations will pre-write certain stories, but it appears that a bunch of UK papers, in getting ready for the verdict over Amanda Knox, were so desperate to get the scoop out first, that they must have loaded up two versions of the story with their fingers poised right over the publish button as the verdict came out. Unfortunately for “the press,” the court first noted that Knox was “guilty” of defamation, and then cleared her on the murder charges.

But it appears that the eager button pushers in various newsrooms simply heard “guilty” and hit “publish” on the “guilty” versions of the story. Malcolm Coles’ blog presented a bunch of evidence of various newspapers going live with the “guilty version.”

He notes that the Daily Mail version of the story had all sorts of totally falsified details:
Of course, that opening sentence didn’t happen. The story also included other made up details:

As Knox realized the enormity of what judge Hellman was saying she sank into her chair sobbing uncontrollably while her family and friends hugged each other in tears.

A few feet away Meredith’s mother Arline, her sister Stephanie and brother Lyle, who had flown in especially for the verdict remained expressionless, staring straight ahead, glancing over just once at the distraught Knox family.

Prosecutors were delighted with the verdict and said that ‘justice has been done’ although they said on a ‘human factor it was sad two young people would be spending years in jail’.

Following the verdict Knox and Sollecito were taken out of court escorted by prison guards and into a waiting van which took her back to her cell at Capanne jail near Perugia and him to Terni jail, 60 miles away.

The various newspapers that published the “wrong” story quickly updated to the “correct” one — almost certainly also pre-written with similar details of “reactions” that hadn’t actually happened at the time of writing. But that also resulted in some interesting juxtaposition while Google News had competing headlines from the same sources:

Nice to see that getting the story right is very much secondary to getting the story first. Nice work by Coles to catch all of this and highlight it on his blog.

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Comments on “Amanda Knox Is Guilty… Of Making Newspapers Jump The Gun On Guilty Headlines”

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Nope, The Sun is, which happens to have reported similar results. The Fail is one of the other right-wing reactionary rags, and I note the presence of the newspaper nicknamed the Torygraph because of its right-wing views.

Funnily enough, I’m not seeing The Independent or The Guardian in those results, among others…. I wonder if that’s because they’re more centrist/left-leaning papers who actually practice journalism rather than xenophobia and hatred? Not that I’m going to be partisan here, but it’s interesting how the tabloid idiots who constantly get caught out in blatant lies are almost always right-leaning (Mirror excluded, of course).

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I remember a few years ago a friend of mine was involved in a complicated court case. He was dismayed by the inaccuracy of most of the reporting in the media. He commented that if their reporting of the big stories of the day was as inaccurate as the reporting of his case then the public really has no idea what is going on. He made one exception to this conclusion – the Guardian.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Response to: Ima Fish on Oct 4th, 2011 @ 12:23pm

Way to mix media and messages. Let’s break this down:

JOURNALISM is a pursuit – it includes hard news reporting, research, analysis, editorial/opinion, audience interaction, entertainment coverage, light news, human interest – lots of stuff

NEWS is, as you say, supposed to be about pure objective fact. It’s just one component of journalism.

A NEWSPAPER is a medium. It is just a way of printing stuff. The term carries associations with journalistic values, but a newspaper can in fact be anything from a drug store tabloid to a parody like the Onion to a serious news outlet.

A BLOG is similarly, just a medium. And like newspaper, it can be used for anything from hard reporting to photos of cats. Because the bar to entry is lower, there is greater variety among blogs than among newspapers.


NEWS is a part of JOURNALISM which can be communicated in a NEWSPAPER or in a BLOG. But the simple fact that something is a BLOG or a NEWSPAPER tells you nothing about what kind of JOURNALISM it contains (and how much of that journalism is hard NEWS), or even if it contains any at all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Response to: Ima Fish on Oct 4th, 2011 @ 12:23pm

“with fact-happy blogs and opinionated papers.”

I must disagree. This wasn’t fact vs opinion. This was fact vs lies.

When they supposedly had reactions and quotes for something that didn’t happen, there is no way around that they flat out lied.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Response to: Ima Fish on Oct 4th, 2011 @ 12:23pm

When they supposedly had reactions and quotes for something that didn’t happen, there is no way around that they flat out lied.

Unless you like the distinction between lies and bullshit that H.G. Frankfurt makes in On Bullshit. I think this is more bullshitting than lying. The paper wasn’t aiming specifically to deceieve anyone, it’s just that the truth had no particular relevance to their objective. Which is kind of scary for a “news” organization.

btr1701 says:

Re: stop it already

> Why is US media giving such coverage to this
> when there are thousands protesting in our
> own country.

Because I’d rather see pictures of a cute American girl reunited with her family than a bunch of smelly malcontents laying around a public park, chanting ‘Down with capitalism!”, while at the same time texting on their iPhones, blogging on their laptops, and slurping down their Snapples.

At the very least my irony meter won’t keep red-lining.

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

I think this calls for a different kind of new content. If the vast majority of it can be pre-written (I mean the background, not the made-up sinking in your chair and sobbing) maybe instead of publishing a new article each time with repeat information we need something a bit more like a wiki which is updated when something new happens.

Anonymous Coward says:

Sadly, with the online competition from all over the world, papers are often forced to write both possible outcomes and then release one as soon as they have the answer. If someone got the wrong signal (and it appears more than one did) then all of a sudden you have a flood.

Find it here first… with global competition, it only gets worse.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Another pretty serious way to lose advantage over the competition is to fuck up like this, lying to all your readers and exposing your questionable methods.

So it’s not quite as simple a decision as you make it sound. Being first is important – perhaps moreso than it should be – but it’s not the ONLY thing newspapers have to worry about.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

This is absolutely true. I might or might not have gone to The Sun or Daily Mail for this story first, but now that they’ve shown that they are willing to make up stuff just to be first, I won’t go to them for any other story, whether they are first or not. Their attempt at being first for one story, has shown that they aren’t trustworthy for any story.

Being first might gain you viewers now, but being wrong loses you viewers for a long time. In this case, showing that you lie loses you viewers for ever.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I think being first may be overblown. If it an investigative piece that you are working on undercover, then yes, first is important.

But THIS was a public event, broadcast worldwide by several hundred ‘news’ organizations. These ‘print’ (Internet) organizations have no hope of beating live. So, the can get second at best, and at what cost?

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

That’s a very good and really important point. If an alien with no context was monitoring the earth during a major event, they would be baffled: hundreds if not thousands of people working at top speed to deliver fifty different versions of the exact same facts to everyone else, all within seconds of each other. The news industry wastes so much manpower competing at things that don’t need to be a competition anymore, and so much space printing wire copy to ensure they don’t miss leave anything out even if they have nothing new to say about it. I feel like there’s a lofty word along the lines of “Kafkaesque” (but not that) that describes it perfectly – but I can’t think of it so I’ll just call it hilarious.

There is absolutely no need to replicate basic facts ad nauseum. First-hand reporting benefits from some variety, sure (I’m not suggesting we send one guy to cover every major story) but you just have to laugh at a press circus, with fifty reporters thrusting their mics upwards as though there were only so many sound waves to go around.

So it’s not just that they have to give up trying to be first – they have to give up trying to be everywhere, too.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

However, theoretically at least, frequent mistakes in this area will make people go elsewhere for their “exclusives”, since who cares if it’s exclusive if it’s completely wrong?

Of course, that relies on the brain power of the average Mail/Sun reader, which only primates tend to envy. At least we’re reading something other than how fat/thin/pregnant/not pregnant a “star” of a minor soap is.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

id rather wait to read a story from a someone I can trust to actually be reporting the news instead of the first guy to make up a nice story vaguely resembling(or in this case not at all resembling) the facts.

If I had been a reader of any of these “news” sites that printed a bunch of made up fluff and passed it of as fact I wouldn’t be anymore.

You can stay competitive by writing the truth and writing it well, investigating and shedding new light on things rather than parroting other stories helps too. Maybe being fast will get you some instant action but a good reputation will get you repeat customersBut its sad that these reporters would rather have the breaking news page views instead of the slightest bit of journalistic integrity.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

A day or two late seems a bit long even. Either one of these papers could have waited 10 minutes and saved a lot of face. I’m glad they didn’t though. Otherwise I might have trusted their other stories. Now I have no reason to trust them for anything. Neither of these papers can be trusted for even weather reports.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

You got me there, but in the interest of trying to save face, I will now claim that meteorologists get the forecasts wrong, newspapers should just report those forecasts, and now I will no longer trust them to do that properly.

If that doesn’t work, can I derail the conversation by calling you names and of being a supporter of Mazburglar?

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

I will now claim that meteorologists get the forecasts wrong, newspapers should just report those forecasts, and now I will no longer trust them to do that properly

Unless, of course, the two errors cancel each other out! I once spent weeks with my weather widget accidentally set to Toronto, Ohio instead of Toronto, Ontario, and found the results to be slightly less accurate after I fixed it…

FM HIlton (profile) says:

The news isn't news anymore

It’s actually entertainment, and as such, the media loves to make up stories (true, false or completely baseless) to entice readers.

It doesn’t mean they’re accurate. They’re making stuff up just to fill the holes. They get caught out on this stuff a lot more than just a few times.

They’re creating news for the most part, and then advertising that some of the media are “fair and balanced”.

That is: Fair to their advertising and balanced on their profit sheets.

DV Henkel-Wallace (profile) says:

Like old sports reporting

This is how Ronald Reagan got his start: he would read the ticker tape reporting of faraway baseball games and then describe the game over the radio to listeners. The ticker tape just had raw data (hits, outs etc) so he would make up the background detail.

(Not to mention that many people follow cases like this as they follow sport)

ComputerAddict (profile) says:


Knox was found GUILTY of Defamation,

This is how it played out in my imagination:
the reporters heard the judge say “The Defendant is found GUILTY”.. Now to the word “guilty” is like a track race’s starting gun, at this point all of the reporters turned and ran out of the courtroom to print their articles, now back to the story, “of Defamation, on the second count of Murder in the first degree the defendant is found NOT GUILTY”

WysiWyg (profile) says:

Why first?

I don’t get it. What’s the point in being “first” on something like this? You will at best beat the competition by a couple of minutes!

If it was a brand new story that no one else knew about, that would be one thing, but “breaking” a ruling in a case like this is worthless. Especially if you add the possibility of screwing it up like this.

Even if they hadn’t pushed the “wrong button”, there would still be the risk of being called out on the fact that you made pretty much everything up. Is that risk REALLY worth those extra minutes?

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