Reuters Retracts David Cay Johnston's News Corp Tax Column, Johnston Apologizes

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David Cay Johnston apologized and retracted his inaccurate claims that News Corp. got$4.8 billion in tax refunds. (Credit: Reuters, screenshot)

Reuters retracted a column alleging News Corp. profited from income taxes, National Public Radio reported.

Reuters issued an “advisory” in a July 13 blog post announcing that this July 12 column by Reuter’s David Cay Johnston is wrong and is being retracted.

“Please be advised that the David Cay Johnston column published on Tuesday stating that Rupert Murdoch’s U.S.-based News Corp made money on income taxes is wrong and has been withdrawn. News Corp’s filings show the company changed reporting conventions in its 2007 annual report when it reversed the way it showed positive and negative numbers. A new column correcting and explaining the error in more detail will be issued shortly.”

The July 12 column (see here) notes that as a columnist, Johnston’s “opinions expressed…are his own.” Johnston reported that News Corp. made “$4.8 billion in income tax refunds, all or nearly all from the U.S. government,” instead of paying “3.6 billion at the 35 percent corporate tax rate.”

Johnston noted that News Corp. “had no comment,” and that Murdoch-owned news outlets including Fox News and the Wall Street Journal “often rail against taxes.”

How the Error was Made

According to the Atlantic Wire, the error is the result of Johnston’s having “misread a News Corp. financial statement.”  In an interview, Johnston reportedly explained to the Atlantic Wire that the correction is “particularly painful” and that he’s “never, until now, had to do anything like this.”

Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize recipient as a reporter for the New York Times, owned up to the error, simply stating, “At the end of the day, the fact is, I shouldn’t have missed” a “switched” figure in the News Corp. financial reports, the Atlantic Wire reported.   “Everybody makes mistakes, the issue is how you deal with correcting them,” Johnston reportedly stated.

Johnston Apologizes

Johnston issued a July 13 column apologizing and explaining the error (see here).  He wrote

“Readers, I apologize. The premise of my debut column for Reuters, on News Corp’s taxes, was wrong, 100 percent dead wrong.”

He went on to add that the $4.8 billion refund he reported was actually the amount News Corp paid and that this is his first “skinback,” or “retraction of the premise of a piece.”

According to Johnston, “a post at taxprofblog” informed him his report was inaccurate.  While Johnston wrote that he didn’t see the error, he commented that the “note troubled me” and that he started “reviewing every document” and “rechecking” his reporting.

Johnston noted that no one at News Corp. “so much as coughed” when he contacted the company for comment about the inaccurate statistic. Read his whole column here.

The story was re-reported by ABC News, NPR, and Slate.  NPR added an editor’s note and a correction noting Reuters’ “advisory.” Slate, which added an update about the errors and the Reuters “advisory,” left its original story intact.

The Atlantic Wire noted that the column was Johnston’s first for Reuters. Reuters hired Johnston last month after he “spent 13 years as a tax reporter with the New York Times, the Wrap reported at the time.

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Reuters Retracts David Cay Johnston’s News Corp Tax Column, Johnston Apologizes

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