The Union issues major retraction on allegedly libelous claim about County Elections Office, conceding it “failed to confirm” the charge

Last week in “What is the difference between a journalist and a blogger, The Union Publisher Jim Hemig was touting the newsroom’s “reliable sources,” credibility and “providing balance.”

At around the same time, I pointed out the egregious reporting error from Hemig’s own newsroom when it republished what many journalists would consider a libelous statement concerning the Elections Office.

The Union republished a press release from ASA on its website that alleged “the ACLU is investigating whether actions taken by the County rise to the level of election tampering.”

I confirmed that there was no such investigation, but The Union did not. This false statement also was reported on tea-party supporter Barry Pruett’s political blog. (Barry lost to Diaz in a race for clerk-recorder).

Even after I pointed this out and the ASA backed off its false claim, the Union’s article remained posted online (to my astonishment). Pruett drew lines through the false statement on his blog and rewrote the headline, substituting the word “foot dragging” for “tampering” (though the original reference “Gregory Diaz and election tampering” still shows up in the URL of his post, http://barrypruett.blogspot.com/2014/04/gregory-diaz-and-election-tampering.html) and in a Google search. (You can’t “erase” that). Pruett has not apologized to Diaz, either, at least to my knowledge.

Now, after receiving notice from the Elections Office, The Union has issued a major retraction written by Editor Brian Hamilton. The Union said it regrets the “apparent false allegation was posted at TheUnion.com.” It also apologized to the “Nevada County Elections Office and to Nevada County Clerk-Recorder/Registrar of Voters Gergory Diaz, for our failure to confirm the allegation prior to publishing the news release at TheUnion.com, which inaccurately called into question the integrity of the county elections office with the false claim.”

The news release containing the false information finally has been removed from TheUnion.com’s website, at least according to The Union. (But it still appears in a Google search).

Under the California retraction statute, according to the Digital Media Law project:

A plaintiff has twenty days after discovering an allegedly libelous statement to serve a request for retraction;

The request must be in writing and must specify the statements claimed to be libelous and demand that they be corrected; and

Once the publisher receives the retraction request, it has three weeks to publish a retraction in a manner that is “substantially as conspicuous” as the original published statements.

If you comply with these procedures after receiving a retraction request (or the plaintiff fails to ask for a retraction as required under the statute) and you are found to be liable for defamation, the plaintiff’s ability to recover damages from you will be limited.

Here’s how the information appears in a Google search:

Screen shot 2014-04-23 at 6.35.29 PM

About jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for years, was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News, and was Editor of The Union, a 145-year-old newspaper in Grass Valley. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing and trout fishing.
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9 Responses to The Union issues major retraction on allegedly libelous claim about County Elections Office, conceding it “failed to confirm” the charge

  1. jeffpelline says:

    BTW, the legal retraction published by The Union is behind a pay wall, while the original and allegedly libelous press release that it republished is not. This means a disproportionate number of people will read the retraction compared with the alleged libel. This will become an issue as the internet pay wall redefines libel law, where your correction is supposed to be as prominent as the original post. The Union has a lot of problems on its hands:
    http://www.theunion.com/news/11068201-113/county-nevada-election-asa
    http://www.theunion.com/news/11151674-113/county-elections-office-release

  2. jeffpelline says:

    I heard Greg Diaz was unable to attend the tea party candidate forum last night for unopposed candidates. Who can blame him? He has been unfairly bashed in our community for years by the hard right. “The politics are so nasty because the stakes are so small.” It’s astounding in some instances, and this is one of them.

    • Annie Fox says:

      Sour grapes and may they choke on their bitter w(h)ine. Would they like some moldy cheese to go with that whine?

  3. I really don’t like the way The Union framed this mistake as the responsibility of ASA by using the headline, “ASA claim of investigation into county elections office false” It implies that ASA bears responsibility for the mistake and that they have no responsibility to check claims like this that are potentially libelous.

    ASA provided The Union with a press release, it is The Union’s responsibility to check to make sure the information in the press release is accurate. Of course The Union cannot check every detail in every press release, but the greater the potential harm the greater the responsibility.

    It is nice that Patricia Smith took responsibility for releasing inaccurate information with this statement, ““I take full responsibility for prematurely announcing that the ACLU was investigating our elections office……..I apologize profoundly for causing The Union to inadvertently release inaccurate information and for any negative backlash towards elections office personnel.”

    This is how an adult takes responsibility for their actions and it only builds Ms. Smith’s credibility in the community.

    But The Union compounds their error by framing the entire retraction as though they were the victim of misinformation; they are not a victim they are a the ones with the responsibility to investigate and ensure they report the truth, which is what their customers pay for. Hence the statement, “The Union regrets the apparent false allegation was posted at TheUnion.com. The news release has since been removed from the website” simply rings hollow. They do go on to apologize but the schizophrenic nature of their statement leaves the apology both fuzzy and equivocal.

    Why is it that people just cannot say, ” I made a mistake, I was wrong, and I sincerely apologize.”

  4. brucelevy says:

    The again, in a pinch, The Union can serve as relatively mediocre toilet paper.

  5. brucelevy says:

    Sorry, should be “then again…”

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