Because of a "technical glitch" and an editor's mistake, Reuters published a story that alleged that George Soros was the secret backer of the Occupy Wall Street protests because he gave money to a group that gave money to a group that was an early publicizer of the protests. It was roundly mocked in media circles today, especially after the story went from carrying the headline "Who's Behind the Wall Street Protests" to "Soros: Not a Funder of Wall Street Protests." Now it's back to the original again. We asked Reuters what happened and their version of the play-by-play is a little bit confusing, so bear with us.
The first version went up at 11:09 a.m., and was captured by The New York Observer, and did not include comment from Soros's spokesman. Headline: Who's behind the Wall St. protests?" Well, media reporters flipped out, and Reuters' own Felix Salmon penned a column lambasting his employer for publishing a story with "no real substance to it at all."
At 5:25 p.m., Reuters updated the story with comment from Soros's spokesman--it's pictured below. Headline: "Soros: not a funder of Wall Street protests." The URLs match, but there's no editor's note appended about the update. And the story reads completely differently.
Then at 6:45 p.m., the original headline reappeared above an updated story with comments from Soros's spokesperson. Again, it's the same URL, however, the original lede is back, and it takes until the third graf before you realize that Soros is now denying the connection.
The story's editor, Claudia Parsons, took partial blame for the stuttering, dizzying nature of the updates. "All I can say is there was a technical glitch with story numbers on our internal system," Parsons told The Atlantic Wire. "That may have been a problem which is why you saw the other one. That was my mistake. I may have put the wrong number on there," she said referring to Reuters' content management system.
Reuters's editor for ethics and standards Alix M. Freedman indicated that updates like this one are quite common at the newswire. "We update stories all the time when we get more information," said Parsons. "As soon as the spokesmen for Soros provided us with more information we provided an update."
Freedman added that the updated story had been sent over the wires and uploaded to the website, but the original version would still be available online. At the time of this posting, we weren't able to find the original version or an editor's note, however Freedman alerted us that their online team was "having a technical problem, which it is working to fix now." (Update: Reuters now has two separate working links for the story. The updated version can be found here with this note on the bottom: "Recasts with comment from Soros aide, adds new details to clarify. The original version can be found here.")
As for the debate over the original story, Reuters welcomes it. "We encourage free and open debate in the media world and inside Reuters itself," Parsons said. We also asked if there was any debate about the original reporting being too thin before it was published. "Not that was brought to my attention," said Freedman. "I'm not aware of any."