If StinkyJournalism staffers are the self-knighted superheroes of fact-checking, then Google Alerts are our trusty sidekicks. When founder Rhonda Roland Shearer received a suspicious news alert about an article from Toledo’s WTVG (“Pit bull chews off boys leg, mother sentenced”), she immediately smelled that something wasn’t right. A thought bubble appeared over her head, reading, “A pit bull chewed off a leg?”
She also noticed a strange line in the last paragraph of the story which read “Investigators believe they may never know what really happened.” It seems WTVG had capitalized on the furor – and web traffic – pit bull stories generate, while ignoring a gaping hole in their own reporting.
Instantly, she dispatched pitbull- coverage guru Adam Klasfeld to investigate. Interestingly, the article below the headline had the correct information: The dog chewed off the boy’s foot, and not the whole leg. A Laurel-and-Hardy-worthy transcript of Klasfeld’s conversation with the editors of WTVG documents how a correction came to be made.
(Shearer is still looking into the assertion that investigators are unsure about the circumstances of the attack.)
STINKYJOURNALISM: I’m calling from Art Science Research Lab. My name is Adam Klasfeld. How are you doing?
STINKYJOURNALISM: I saw a headline on your website, “Pit bull chews off boy’s leg, mother sentenced.”
WTVG: Correct. Well, bit his foot off.
STINKYJOURNALISM: Oh, it’s been corrected?
WTVG: No. The pit bull chewed the boy’s—
STINKYJOURNALISM: Yes. Exactly.
WTVG: Just the foot.
STINKYJOURNALISM: That’s what I was calling about. Has that been corrected?
WTVG: Has it been corrected? You mean…
STINKYJOURNALISM: The title of the article is, “Pit bull chews off boy’s leg, mother sentenced,” and in the article itself it says that it was the 4-year-old’s foot. I can give you the web address if you’d like.
WTVG: Hold on a second. I’m pulling it up right now. “Pit bull chews off…” Oh, you’re right! “…boy’s leg, mother sentenced.” It should be just his foot.
WTVG: I’ll have them correct that.
STINKYJOURNALISM: Do you know who wrote the headline and the article?
WTVG: No I don’t.
STINKYJOURNALISM: There’s no way of finding that out?
WTVG: Hold on one second.
(WTVG transfers STINKYJOURNALISM to two offices, and eventually a voice mail. STINKYJOURNALISM’s message is not returned. WTVG corrects the title without notice or explanation.)