Some great saves

Every few weeks, I share with the AP staff some “great saves” by staffers who protected AP and its subscribers from hoaxes and inaccuracies. Here are some recent ones:

● Hours after an Air Algerie plane disappeared over Africa, Twitter blew up with claims that Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro and niece of Fidel Castro, was on the plane. The information came from a Facebook post by the airport in Burkina Faso where the flight began, and said Castro was on the manifest. Major newspapers in Argentina, Spain and the UK went with the story online, as did some U.S. outlets. AP Havana quickly reached a source close to Mariela Castro, who said she was not on the plane. Another source told AP she was at a conference at a Havana hotel. Newswoman Andrea Rodriguez drove to the hotel and persuaded a press official to crack open a door to the closed event: there was Mariela Castro speaking from a lectern.

● A tweet went out from “Glee” star Chris Colfer’s verified account to his 2.5 million followers that said he was leaving the Fox show because of “personal issues.” Retweets went out to millions more, and a series of news outlets soon reported the news. Not the AP, however. Even though the account was verified as being legitimate by Twitter, TV writer Frazier Moore followed AP policy that even tweets from verified and familiar accounts need to be confirmed before we report them. So Moore fired off immediate emails to representatives of “Glee,” Fox and Colfer. Within a couple of minutes, Moore got his responses: Colfer wasn’t going anywhere. The actor’s account had been hacked and the tweet was bogus. Others sent corrections.

● On July 14, several news outlets carried stories with headlines like “It’s a miracle! Dead child wakes up at funeral.” The stories said a 2-year-old girl in the Philippines died but moved a finger and had a weak pulse at her funeral. The tale seemed too good to be true, and was just that. Manila correspondent Oliver Teves learned that others published the story without thoroughly investigating the claim. The girl was dead and had been buried. A health official had gone to her village and used a cardiac monitor to confirm there was no heartbeat, no breath and no pulse. She attributed the girl’s lack of rigor mortis _ one of the conditions that people cited to claim she was alive _ to her small muscle mass. We stayed away from the story.

● It would have been big news. On July 17, several news organizations quoted an Israeli official as saying Israel and Hamas had agreed to a cease-fire deal that was to take effect at 6 a.m. the next day. We received several requests for the story. But AP staffers Karin Laub and Mohammad Daraghmeh decided to check further. Daraghmeh quickly got in touch with a top aide of Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who told him the report was baseless. Other news organizations soon had to backtrack.

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About Tom Kent

Deputy managing editor and standards editor of The Associated Press, responsible for accuracy and balance across all AP news services. Frequent contributor to forums and conferences on newsroom ethics and organization. Adjunct professor at the School of International Affairs and Journalism School of Columbia University. Former AP correspondent or bureau chief in Russia, Iran, Belgium, Australia and the United States. Graduate of Yale University. Languages: French, Russian, Spanish. @tjrkent