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June 26, 2011

BBC Retracts Bogus Dog Stoning Story

On its site and in Ha'aretz, Just Journalism slams the BBC for its a bogus story and the ensuing weaseling retraction about a Jerusalem beit din (religious court) condemning a dog to death. Just Journalism's Carmel Gould writes:

The fact that all these stories were released after Maariv acknowledged that their claim that the court ordered the death of the dog was unjustified is seriously worrying. It indicates that journalists did not contact the source of the story but simply relied on second hand reporting, in this case, from Israel’s English-language Ynet website, which also published its story subsequent to Maariv’s retraction.

Presumably as a result of numerous bloggers flagging the retraction, a number of publications which released the seemingly false story have engaged in some level of manoeuvring, generally not involving acknowledgment of any wrongdoing on their parts. The BBC has published, "Jerusalem court denies dog condemned to stoning" which notes that "The source of the report, Israel's Maariv newspaper, apologised for its headline and for any offence caused." As though the retraction had only just occurred and was hence responsible for the BBC’s initial sloppiness.

The Daily Telegraph website, which carried the AFP article over the weekend, removed its original article and posted, "Israel dog stoning reports strongly denied" which also insinuated that Maariv was entirely to blame.

Perhaps a more fitting response would have been to acknowledge the timeline in their follow-up coverage, thus accepting some responsibility for the fact that they too had fallen foul of basic journalistic standards in not checking the facts with the source.

Eoin O'Carroll of the Christian Science Monitor also writes about the bogus canine tale:

Repeating what has been said by other news outlets doesn't create knowledge. It just remixes it, sometimes with heavy distortion and amplification.

As budgets and news cycles shrink, piggybacking on other people's reporting, however sketchy, becomes inevitable. When this is done without verification, errors become increasingly frequent. So while "rabbi stones dog" may not be a true story, it's a useful cautionary tale for journalists, and that includes us.

While TIME has also retracted, the AFP, apparently, has yet to issue a retraction of any kind. Stay tuned.

Update: AFP did issue the following correction on June 20, though it does not appear on Lexis-Nexis:

KILL: Jewish court sentences dog to death by stoning

ATTENTION - KILL: This story is killed because it was based on information in the Israeli media which was later found to be false. ///

Posted by TS at June 26, 2011 06:10 AM

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