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September 01, 2010

Washington Post Sports Reporter Suspended for Fabricated Tweet

Mike Wise.jpeg

Sports reporter Mike Wise: benched for foul play in social media

The Washington Post ombudsman reports:

Popular Washington Post sports columnist Mike Wise has been suspended for a month after knowingly sending a false tweet on Monday.

The action stems from a short scoop to his Twitter followers that said Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has been suspended for six games by the NFL after allegations of misconduct, will only have to sit out five games. “Roethlisberger will get five games, I’m told,” Wise tweeted.

That was big news for those who follow professional football, and it quickly spread on the Internet. But as Wise soon acknowledged, it was a hoax that was part of a misguided attempt to comment on the lowered standards of accuracy for information shared on social media.

Fabrication is a major journalistic transgression. He's lucky he wasn't fired. . . .

On Monday afternoon, after the fabrication became known, [sports editor Matthew Vita sent a note to his staff reminding them of The Post’s rules on social media. They say that in anything transmitted via social media networks, like Twitter or Facebook, “we must protect our professional integrity.”

“We must be accurate in our reporting and transparent about our intentions,” the guidelines read.

But Wise wasn’t reporting. He was fabricating, which is the greatest sin in journalism.


This case reminds us of past examples of journalistic fabrications (involving seal hunting, university hazing, and a college basketball game) -- in which the writers paid the price, either by losing their jobs all together or facing suspension.

The counter-example that comes to mind is freelance writer Carolyn Wheeler's fabrication in the Globe and Mail, in which she falsely claimed to have attended a summit with then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in east Jerusalem. In fact, had she attended, she would have known that the summit was in Sharon's western Jerusalem home in Rehavia. Unlike the other cases involving fabrication, the Globe and Mail took no punitive action against Wheeler, who continued to write on a freelance basis for the newspaper for years.

As for the Wise case, we are glad to see the Post taking the fabrication seriously, even if the subject is only basketball, even if it was limited to the unruly social media.

(Hat tip: Nathan W.)

Posted by TS at September 1, 2010 03:26 AM

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