The Times of London admitted in its March 18 edition that its “exclusive” story that there was going to be a Dream Football League with a 2015 tournament in Qatar was “wrong.”
In a report (partially blocked by a subscription paywall), the Times of London said its reporter “was misled by a contact” and that “there are times when all you can do is admit you were wrong.” (iMediaEthics has asked News International to provide a full copy of the report and will update with more information as we get it.)
At first, the Times denied it had been hoaxed and defended its reporting even though there was a pretty strong case against it. Before the Times dropped that “exclusive,” French site Cahiers du Football had published a satire article “reporting” pretty much the same story.
And Cahiers du Football editor Jerome Latta gave iMediaEthics more reasons to believe the Times of London was hoaxed. Both the Cahiers du Football satire story and the Times of London story used the same image purporting to be a logo for this Dream Football League. While the Times of London’s writer, Oliver Kay, said he saw the image in “e-mails that have been sent to me by the prime source of my story,” Cahiers du Football’s Latta told us that he created that image. Latta emailed iMediaEthics:
“I made the illustration myself on Photoshop, using a quite famous picture of the Doha Port Stadium project, part of the Qatar bid for World Cup 2022. I added the “logo” which is, in fact, just the name I also invented for this competition, ‘Dream Football Club”‘ in Arial Black, chose a colour that matched the picture and added the slogan (as much improvised than the rest) in Inaimathi font.”
Further, Latta noted that Cahiers du Football wasn’t trying to hoax anyone.
“We never tried to fool any media, since our original spoof news was clearly presented as a spoof news; we are not accusing Oliver Kay of any kind of fraud, we believe he was tricked by a malicious person,” he told iMediaEthics by email..
Latta added that he is surprised that the Times did not immediately apologize and continued to defend the story as real, saying:
“Not much to add, except that every hour spent without any decent reaction, explanation or apologies (not to us, to its readers) from the Times increases our amazement. They even published new articles about this competition they keep on naming “DFL”. Obviously, Oliver Kay was fooled by an unreliable source: that kind of mistakes happen, they are not that bad as long as you admit them… “
Further, Latta pointed to Cahiers du Football’s blogpost about this case and his blogpost on Le Monde’s website. Cahiers du Football‘s report reminded that its article was published before the Times ran its story and that the Times of London’s article included “exclusive information weirdly similar” to Cahiers du Football — “an almost perfect match” in terms of details.
Ultimately, this case left Cahiers du Football with “a lot of questions,” according to its blogpost, including:
“Was Oliver Kay really tricked by this man (he happens to follow him on Twitter, which may not mean anything)? Did his source, whoever it is, send him the picture we used in our piece? Did Oliver Kay get real information and somehow it got mixed up with ours, completely made up? There is no way to know the truth yet and we, for the time being, are just allowed to make guesses. But one thing is sure: made-up facts, published on our website in a satirical article with no intention to fool foreign medias, ended in The Times print edition 24 hours later. There would have been something to laugh about had The Times staff not tried to justify themselves by presenting us as profiteers who wanted to make the most of the situation.”
UPDATE: 3/18/2013 10:06 AM EST: A Times representative has sent iMediaEthics the Times’ full article, in which the Times calls its original story on the Dream Football League a “journalistic nightmare” and a “massive mistake.”
In its March 18 story explaining it was wrong, the Times explained how it was tricked by a “dubious” source. According to the Times, its journalist Oliver Kay’s source had a history of giving “information that subsequently turned out to be right.” While in previous cases, Kay didn’t use the tips because he didn’t have “secondary sources,” in this case, Kay was told by some that the Dream Football League idea was possible, giving the paper the sense the story was credible. According to the Times,
“Kay began to call some of Europe’s biggest clubs. The answers were off the record and fell into two categories. Some made it clear that they had no knowledge of the concept. The others said, yes, they had heard talk about such an idea, yes, £175 million was about the figure mentioned but, no, they did not think it was going to happen and could not see themselves being involved.
“These secondary sources treated the questions seriously. And here is where The Times made a massive mistake. Because so many significant people in football did not laugh off the idea, it seemed that the story could be genuine.”
Further, the Times noted that “the warning signs — that no one had heard specific details of the DFL or seen its plans — were missed.” And even when doubts were raised post-publication about the story, it was “unusual” because no lawyers contacted the paper. But, the Times said in an effort to protect its “reputation,” the paper wanted to be upfront about learning from its own “investigation” into the story that it was “duped.”
While not mentioning Cahiers du Football’s satire story, the Times admitted that “the story appears to have been invented and had just enough plausibility to be seductive.”