By: Joe Strupp
A false story wrongly attributed to The Associated Press and claiming that R&B singer R. Kelly had allegedly made sexual advances to a minor made it into The Miami Herald and on to the Knight Ridder/Tribune news wire earlier this week before editors discovered it was a hoax.
The incident, which the AP and the Herald revealed as a fake in stories released Wednesday, not only drew the interest of AP’s legal department, but also pointed to the dangers of news coverage in the Internet age. The story reportedly first appeared on an unidentified Web site.
“The Internet is a very good thing, but sometimes it is not a good thing,” said AP deputy managing editor/news Kristin Gazlay. “It is not unusual for people to doctor stories or completely concoct them. It is unusual for it to appear in print somewhere.”
The fake report first ran in the Herald’s People column on Saturday, according to the paper. It stated that Kelly, who is facing 14 counts of child pornography in Chicago, had been accused of making sexual advances to the underage sister of the singer Ashanti, according to the AP.
The news item appeared to be genuine because it included the byline of AP entertainment writer Nekesa Moody, Gazlay said. But Moody had not written it.
Herald executive editor Tom Fiedler told AP the story was given to an editor of the Herald’s celebrity news “by someone else in the newsroom.” Fiedler believed the person picked it up off the Internet because it “had the appearance of an Associated Press story or seemed to be attributed to AP. The editor took it and unfortunately failed to verify it moved on the AP wire.”
Knight Ridder/Tribune editors then moved the story on its entertainment wire, but removed it and ran a correction Tuesday, AP said.
“If we had thought the item was questionable, we would have checked it,” KRT Editor Jane Scholz told E&P. “But coming from The Miami Herald and with the AP attribution, we didn’t think there was anything questionable about it. We were duped just like everyone else.”
Fiedler could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Gazlay said AP’s legal department had been asked to look into the incident to determine who wrote the false story and if any legal action could be taken against the authors or the originating Web site. “When it comes to our attention, we go after whichever Web site it is attributed to,” she said, not identifying the site. “But it is difficult to track down.”