NPR retracted a story that “did not meet our standards” because “reporting mistakes substantially undercut the story.”
The April 3 story was headlined, “The Man Who Spent $100K to Remove a Lie from Google.” According to a Google cache, the article reported on a man named Jeff Ervine who was upset over an online post about him. NPR admitted its article failed because it claimed one person was the author of the post, but NPR didn’t know that and NPR never contacted him.
The now-retracted story reported on Ervine’s efforts to get a webpage that attacked him removed from the internet.
iMediaEthics has written to Ervine to ask for his response to the retraction of a story about him. NPR declined to comment to iMediaEthics about the retraction, but confirmed the original article was published April 3 during the day and broadcast at night. The story was taken down April 5 around 5 p.m. when NPR replaced it with a note it was being reviewed.
The NPR retraction was posted April 11. It read in full:
“Editor’s note on April 11, 2018: NPR has retracted the story that was previously on this page because it did not meet our standards. ‘Fairness’ is one of our guiding principles, and to that end we have pledged to “make every effort to gather responses from those who are the subjects of criticism.” In this instance, that did not happen. The story referred to one individual as the ‘author’ of a website that another person said had posted defamatory information about him. It also described the author’s motivation as vindictive. But NPR did not contact the alleged author. Upon review, NPR cannot say for certain who the author or authors were or what their motivation was. In fact, in court proceedings, the people cited as the authors were identified only by initials, and we have not been able to establish their identities. In addition, our account made it sound as if the website targeted a single individual. In fact, the website included information and commentary about at least 12 other people. The reporting mistakes substantially undercut the story. We will continue to report about the issue of privacy in the digital age. As we do, we will work hard to make sure the reports live up to our promise to produce content that meets “the highest standards of public service in journalism.”