UK news service WENN retracted and apologized for its November 2014 claim that Robert Plant tore up a contract from Richard Branson to get Led Zeppelin back together.
The published apology went so far as to admit the falsehoods included the drama that Plant, the former lead singer for the rock band, ripped up Branson’s contract.
“There was never any such offer nor any refusal/ripping up of any contract. We accept this unreservedly and we apologise sincerely to Mr Plant, and the other members of the band, for the distress and damage that has been caused by the article. We have agreed to make a donation to the Reverse Rett charity and to pay a contribution towards Mr Plant’s legal costs.”
iMediaEthics contacted WENN , which is based in London, for more information, including which publications ran the WENN story, if Plant threatened to sue, and why the apology was just published, four months after the error.
Lloyd Neiny, the CEO of WENN, told iMediaEthics by e-mail Feb. 14, ” I’m afraid I am bound by a confidentiality clause in the settlement agreement so I am unable to comment.”
Plant’s publicist declined to comment, pointing us the comments at the time about the story being false.
Mirror published the Same False Story in November
The fake story originated back in November, when the UK Mirror published a story “Branson’s £500M offer to reform Led Zeppelin… but singer Plant says no”.
The Mirror reported based on anonymous sources that Plant was the hold out and “ripped up the paperwork he had been given,” according to the Express.
Plant’s publicist quickly shot down the story as “rubbish,” the Guardian reported Nov. 10.
“Robert Plant has not been in receipt of any offers in recent months with any organization or promoters regarding future Led Zep live shows,” Plant’s representative added in a statement to Huffington Post. “Robert Plant has neither met or communicated with Richard Branson in the last 50 years, so it was with great surprise to see this reported in the press. He is excited and proud of their most recent remastered releases and disappointed with any confusion this current fabricated story may bring.”
Branson also blogged about the false story, writing in part: “I’ve been left dazed and confused by a story doing the rounds this week about us apparently offering Led Zeppelin £500 million to reform and carry out a tour. As much as I love the band, there is absolutely no truth to the story.”
He added, “I spoke to Robert Plant about the story, which he also confirmed is complete rubbish from his side too.”
“On November 9, 2014 we published an article entitled “Branson’s £500M offer to reform Led Zeppelin… but singer Plant says no”.
“The article claimed that Mr Plant turned down an offer from Mr Branson and ripped up the contract.
“We accept that there was no such offer and no refusal, and we apologise to Mr Plant and the other members of the band.
“We have agreed to make a donation to a charity nominated by Mr Plant, the Teenage Cancer Trust.
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“This correction was published in the Sunday Mirror on 16th November 2014.”
iMediaEthics has contacted the Mirror to ask how its error occurred.
iMediaEthics contacted the UK press regulator IPSO to ask how many, if any, complaints it received over the false reporting. IPSO said that it didn’t receive any complaints regarding the Mirror, Express or WENN’s stories.
Other Outlets Reported on the Story
WENN and the Mirror weren’t alone in publishing the false claims.
However, two of the four outlets –CNN and Forbes –did row back their reporting with follow-up stories admitting the Branson Led Zeppelin story was wrong. Neither Page Six nor The Inquisitr appear to have published any follow-up report or correction admitting the original story was false.
iMediaEthics asked the Inquisitr if it would correct the story. Kevin Tall, director of writer development for the Inquisitr, told iMediaEthics by e-mail, “That had not previously been brought to our attention, and I see we’re not the only ones. Thanks for the heads-up; the story has been amended.”
The original Inquisitr story now contains an editor’s note stating: “the original source article for this story, published by the Mirror, has been deleted from their Web site. The Guardian has since heard from Robert Plant’s PR folk, who called the story ‘rubbish.’ Looks like we’re all a little dazed and confused…”
CNN published a story reporting that Branson and Plant denied the story. CNN’s report didn’t admit that CNN had reported on the false claims.
Likewise, Forbes reported in a follow-up that the story “appears to be complete fiction.”
The false story’s “origins trace back to a story by U.K. tabloid The Sunday Mirror on Sunday and a follow-up by The Daily Mail that relied on anonymous sources; soon mainstream outlets from CNN to The Sydney Morning Herald were echoing the news,” Forbes reported, not confessing that it also reported on the story as if it were real.
After iMediaEthics contacted Forbes, Forbes updated that follow-up story in the text to admit one of its own contributors was duped. Forbes also added this atop the original, erroneous story:
“Update: Publicists for Branson and Plant tell Forbes’ Zack O’Malley Greenburg that the Mirror’s story isn’t true.”
iMediaEthics has written to CNN to ask why it didn’t publish corrections or admit in follow-up reports that they were duped. We also have contacted the Page Six for a correction.
UPDATE: 2/17/2015 11:22 AM EST Added responses from Plant’s publicists, Forbes