It was supposedly a life and death drama. Why was sister dog Skye separated from her “brother” Milo and left to die by cruel, profit-taking animal rescue groups? This heartrending tale, which also featured a touching photo of the alleged canine siblings “kissing,” inspired more than 1,000 comments on Facebook and was picked up by Examiner.com.
The Jan. 31 Examiner article, “A final kiss goodbye before Skye is killed in New York City” by Cindy Marabito, claimed that Skye and Milo, allegedly two sibling pit bulls, were about to be killed at a Harlem animal control center. There was only one problem with this sensational story, published on a site where writers are paid by the number of clicks: It wasn’t true.
Five hours before the story was posted at 8:13 PM, Skye had already been adopted and was safe and secure in her new home. Therefore, the claim that Skye was “about to be killed” was false.
The Examiner reporter, Marabito, admitted to iMediaEthics she did not contact either the rescue group involved or the city shelter officials who released the dog to its new home to verify before publication that any of her claims were true. If she had even bothered to fact check Facebook posts on the rescue group’s website, she would have found a post-adoption photo of Skye with a caption stating that the dog was safe, which was posted three hours before the article went up.
In its About Us page, Examiner.com describes itself as “launched in 2008” and “a dynamic entertainment, news and lifestyle network that serves more than 20 million monthly readers across the U.S. and around the world.”
Bottom line: The core of the Examiner story is based on fake facts and is gutted once the truth is known.
However, the story doesn’t end there. After iMediaEthics’ attempt to interview the Examiner.com writer about the errors in her post and to write a follow-up story, the writer, Marabito, was fired, all of her stories were deleted from the Examiner.com website and numerous false claims about iMediaEthics were posted on social media.
How does iMediaEthics have special knowledge that Marabito’s major factual assertions are fake?
iMediaEthics has personal, intimate knowledge about Skye and, therefore, about the veracity of any claims involving the dog. That is, our publisher, Rhonda Roland Shearer, happened to have adopted Skye on Jan. 31, hours before the false Examiner story about the “sibling” dogs was published.
Shearer saw Skye on the condemned dog list on Jan. 31 and arrived at the Harlem animal control center just minutes before Skye was scheduled to be euthanized. By about 4 PM, Shearer arrived home with Skye, and the AmsterDog rescue group, which called animal control to hold the dog for Shearer, posted a photo at 5:07 PM of Skye at her new home.
Shearer had no idea there was any controversy around Skye at all, until the next day when AmsterDog Rescue’s Director Deborah DiIorio called her to ask, “Have you seen what is going on, on Facebook? Have you seen the Examiner.com article?” Shearer had not.
iMediaEthics has included a list of errors with details at the end of this story, but here are two key examples:
- Shearer saw right away the Examiner.com story was fake, based on the timing. Skye was already tucked into her new dog bed in her new home well before the sensational and inaccurate story churned up emotions and profitable clicks.
- Shearer noted a problem with the dating of the dramatic photo, too. Skye could not have been sniffing around Milo the day of her scheduled euthanisation, Jan. 31, because as eye-witnessed by Shearer when picking up the dog, Skye was kept in a separate isolation area and away from healthy dogs like her “brother,” due to being ill with highly contagious kennel cough (infectious canine tracheobronchitis), that was diagnosed at least a day earlier. Carol Rothschild, the photographer/volunteer whose photo of Skye and Milo was used by Marabito in her sensationalized story, confirmed with iMediaEthics that she took the photo on Jan. 25 in a holding area before either dog had been evaluated. The claim that the photo showed a last “kiss” or sniff was bogus and dramatized.
Examiner.com killed the story and fired the reporter.
More than the fakery, errors and methodological fails, the Examiner reporter Marabito was fired because of her reaction when iMediaEthics discovered the errors and decided to investigate.
In addition to posting our intern’s personal cell phone number and e-mail address, Marabito lobbed the f-bomb to our lawyer and is continuing to post false claims about iMediaEthics.
This obvious retaliation came after iMediaEthics’ intern and co-author of this report, Katie Kausch, contacted Marabito for fact checking and in order to write this investigation. Kausch asked Marabito how she learned of Skye’s story, and what sources Marabito contacted to verify her claims. Marabito admitted that she did not contact animal control, the rescue organization AmsterDog, or Skye’s adoptive owner, Shearer. Instead, she used only the information she found on a Facebook post to write her story.
Yet she continued complaining to iMediaEthics about how slow and bad her Examiner editors were as the reason for why she claimed Skye was about to be killed five hours after adoption. “They have anal-retentive people- you’ll spend 2-3 hours and then they’ll kill the story; anal-retentive editors saying it doesn’t meet their standards,” she said.
After yelling at and hanging up on Kausch, Marabito then posted iMediaEthics’ intern’s cell phone number and e-mail address in an update to her Examiner post. There was no news value for doing so. When Kausch called back to request her contact information be removed, Marabito said, “I will not remove it… you are wasting my time.” She then hung up.
iMediaEthics tweeted and e-mailed Marabito asking again for her to remove the personal information, but Marabito ignored these requests. We then asked a lawyer to contact Marabito about this. She yelled at the lawyer, too, complaining he was wasting her time and was a “fucking loser.”
Examiner.com sent Marabito to the doghouse
Getting nowhere by appealing directly with Marabito, iMediaEthics called Examiner.com management to request the removal of Kausch’s information. Our position, which we will rigorously defend, is that there was no news value to justify a senseless privacy violation of our intern.
Examiner.com’s content manager, Justin Jimenez, agreed, telling iMediaEthics by phone, “My sincerest apologizes to you [iMediaEthics] and especially to your intern for this [Marabito’s behavior]…it’s completely unacceptable.”
He also told iMediaEthics that Examiner.com contributor terms and guidelines completely prohibit such posting of the personal information of others. “It violates our standards,” he said.
Examiner.com told iMediaEthics it would investigate the matter. Shortly after that, iMediaEthics noticed that Examiner.com had removed the Marabito’s post on Skye. Approximately 24 hours later, all of Marabito’s articles for Examiner had been taken down.
Marabito was fired, she revealed on one of her Facebook pages, American Pit Bull Examiner. The page uses the branding “Examiner” but isn’t affiliated with Examiner.com.
“No way are we affiliated with that Facebook page” [still up, American Pit Bull Examiner], that continues to state untruths about iMediaEthics, Jimenez states. “It’s an unauthorized use of our brand that went up without our permission. Legal is looking into it now.”
Also on that Facebook page, Marabito has posted further retaliations including false accusations against iMediaEthics, such as her claim that we “tricked her” when our “fake reporter” told her iMediaEthics was writing a report. (Presumably, she now knows, with this published report, that we were telling her the truth all along).
Marabito also admits on her Facebook page that she told iMediaEthics’ lawyer, Maxim H. Waldbaum, a partner at Eaton & Van Winkle LLP, that he was a “fucking loser” and “wasting her time” when he asked her to remove our intern’s personal contact information.
AmsterDog rescue group says it has had to deal with days of fielding harsh emails filled with accusations fueled by Marabito’s false story. “Rescue is challenging enough without these battles,” Deborah DiIorio, Director at AmsterDog, said via email.
She told iMediaEthics she has received dozens of threatening comments and emails, pulling her away from her rescue work. “We as rescuers feel that it’s teamwork that gets the job done, working together, all of us, the volunteers, the posters on FB, the transporters, the donors, the fosters, the adopters….none of it can happen without a dedicated group of people working TOGETHER, not against one another.”
iMediaEthics realizes that killing so many healthy and adoptable dogs and other pets across the country annually is a tragedy, and that improvements must be made at public and private shelters alike. That being said, there are better ways of getting worthy pets adopted than publishing sensationalized and inaccurate stories.
The reporting of true heart-wrenching stories of pets looking for families should be enough to promote adoption in iMediaEthics’ view, and therefore, do not require the wrong-headed and unethical tactic of promoting fake stories to emotionally manipulate the public.
The harmful results of sensationalism have already affected AmsterDog, who lost time they could have spent rescuing animals. DiIorio explained, “I had to spend days focusing on phone calls, text messages, emails and comments. I had to answer each one.”
“I wasted time with two unqualified parties who were emotionally moved by the controversy,” DiIorio continued, “There was no way they could have coped with the expense and work of two young dogs added to their families and made it a real risk of having the dogs ultimately returned and uprooted again.”
Marabito’s retaliation with personal attacks against us was her undoing. She soon announced on Feb 4 she was no longer an Examiner.com contributor as she was “fired.” iMediaEthics verified with Examiner.com’s Justin Jimenez who confirms “she is no longer a contributor.”
More on Marabito’s Factual Errors:
Claim: Skye is a sibling of Milo.
Reality: This is not known for certain. They may be brother and sister, or they may not be. All that is known is they were surrendered by the same person.
Claim: Skye was “waiting to die” at the time of publishing.
Reality: Wrong again. iMediaEthics publisher already had Skye adopted five hours before publication and it was announced on Facebook three hours before Marabito’s 8:13PM EST post.
Claim: ACC NYC euthanizes animals “every day of the year, 365 days, and even on Christmas.” Marabito claimed that the New York City shelter system “murders” animals…”even on Christmas day.”
Reality: This would be heartbreaking- except that it’s not true. Marabito never fact checked with the public shelter before stating this incendiary claim as a fact. When asked if the shelter euthanizes on Christmas, Katy Hansen, a Media Liaison for Animal Control Center, said in an email to iMediaEthics, “No. We aren’t even open on Christmas day.” The only time the shelter would open on a holiday would be to help terminally-ill animals. “The only way euthanasia would occur on Christmas day is if it was a medical emergency and humane euthanasia would prevent the suffering of an animal,” wrote Hansen.
Claim: Milo and Skye were a bonded pair living together since they were 9 weeks old.
Reality: “Bonded pairs of animals have generally grown up together. While often siblings, non-siblings can bond as well,” Hansen told iMediaEthics. “Although every animal can develop bonds, there are times when these bonds are so close that one or both animals decline when not with the other.” She (and photographer/long time ACC volunteer, Carol Rothschild) confirmed this was not the case with Skye and Milo, both of whom underwent behavioral evaluations before being eligible for adoption.
“When [Skye and Milo] were separated they did fine on their behavior evaluations showing no signs of stress that would be associated with an animal who feels scared and helpless when not with the other animal,” Hansen said. “[The photo] was a nice opportunity to show that both of the dogs are nice dogs and recognize one another, but it was certainly not to imply that they were bonded or need to get adopted together or anything like that,” said Rothschild, the photographer who took the “last kiss” photo. The shelter will include recommendations for keeping bonded pairs together when such bonding occurs. No such recommendation was made for either Skye or Milo.
Claim: The “Last Kiss” photo was showing a “goodbye” between pit bull siblings before death separated them on Jan.31.
Reality: When asked again if the photo was taken on Skye’s “death march,” photographer Carol Rothschild told iMediaEthics by phone: “No, it was not.” Skye was coming inside from playing in the snow almost a week before publication on Jan.25. The photo credit byline was in error, too.
“I had taken Skye past Milo in order to put her back in her kennel” after taking her outside on Jan. 25th, Rothschild, explained, “They stopped, and they kissed, and they clearly recognized one another, but after that recognition, Skye turned around and kept walking and hopped right back into her kennel.” Skye and Milo had not yet been given their behavioral evaluations on Jan. 25, and could not have already been on the “kill list.”
Claim: The photo was taken by Julie Carner
Reality: Carol Rothschild took the photo. “I did not realize my name was credited on the photo,” Julie Carner told iMediaEthics when contacted via Facebook. Carner is active in the online animal rescue Internet community, and often re-posts photos she did not take in order to spread the word about their “kill list” status. iMediaEthics then reached out by phone to Rothschild, a longtime volunteer at the kennel who often takes photos of the dogs. “I take photos of the dogs for the ACC website,” Rothschild told iMediaEthics. “just to market them. So I always have my camera at the ready, and it was a good photo op” on Jan. 25 after the two dogs were surrendered together on Jan, 24 and kenneled side by side.
UPDATE: 7/10/2016 Read iMediaEthics’ March interview with Justin Jimenez here.