It was 3 a.m. on Saturday, and I was seething. Staring at my phone, I saw that my company, Newsweek Media Group, had put out yet another story that would require a correction if not a retraction. This time it was a story ripped from The Onion. We were treating the fake news as if it were real. OFFS, I tapped under a friend’s Facebook post after seeing it, short for Oh, For Fuck’s Sake. The headline in our sister publication, the International Business Times: “Meghan Markle and Prince Harry Set Up Wedding Registry at London’s Target.” Despite the late hour, I dropped a note to an editor who took the story down off the website. You can see the link on Google, but if you click, you’ll get “Error 404. PAGE NOT FOUND.” There’s no correction, which is what a normal news company might post.
It would be funny if there hadn’t been so many insane errors in recent months. An article in Newsweek on the girlfriend of the suspected Las Vegas gunman breathlessly purported to have discovered that she was married to two men simultaneously. (Not true.) One piece touted a new poll in Japan that showed its citizens were eager to go to war with North Korea—a startling headline that raised alarms in a region fraught with nuclear tensions, and where Tokyo’s occupation of the peninsula during the Pacific War is still raw. (Oops. Not true.) President Donald Trump can defend himself, but Newsweek ran a story following Charles Manson’s death that was both banal and a slur: They both use words to influence people. It had to be walked back. One of the most embarrassing for me as a political reporter is a story from January 2018 announcing that Hillary Clinton, she of the 2016 election, could still become president “if Russia probe finds conspiracy evidence.” What followed was a farfetched theory of Trump’s removal and Mike Pence handing the reins to Hillary, which seems a tad unlikely.