Sources Lead ‘Hartford Courant’ Astray

By: Joe Strupp

For the second time in less than a week, The Hartford (Conn.) Courant has been forced to reveal that a story it published was untrue because of false information from sources.

In a “Metro” section front page correction published Thursday, the Tribune Co. paper admitted that a column published last Sunday wrongly reported that the FBI had installed software on computers at the Hartford Public Library to monitor the Web activity of library patrons. The correction followed last week’s revelation that a story about an author claiming to have received a letter from President Bush about his book had been bogus because the author made up the story.

“When you care as much about getting things right as we do, this concerns us,” said Cliff Teutsch, Courant managing editor, who said the mistakes had drawn heightened interest in accuracy safeguards. “Everyone’s antennae are up higher than they were.”

Editor Brian Toolan said the incidents had sparked him and others to consider changes in policy. “We screwed up and we’re going to fix it,” he said, declining to say exactly what changes might be made.

The latest mistake occurred in a Nov. 3 column by freelancer Bill Olds, who writes about privacy issues twice a month in the Sunday “Life” section. His column said that library sources told him the FBI was monitoring library computer use as part of its anti-terrorism efforts.

In reality, the FBI had only seized evidence, with a search warrant, from a single computer in the library that had allegedly been used to hack into computer systems in a California business, according to the correction that ran Nov. 7.

“The FBI contacted us [after the column ran] and told us it was wrong,” Teutsch said. “We talked to the columnist and the sources acknowledged they had made a misinterpretation of some facts and we corrected it.”

The first goof occurred in an Oct. 30 story by reporter Kevin Canfield about author Gabe Hudson, who wrote Dear Mr. President. The book is a look at American life through the experiences of a group of fictional military veterans, according to Canfield’s story.

In the article, Canfield reported that Hudson had sent a copy of the book to President Bush and received a letter back from the president criticizing it. The story also reported that Hudson would not provide a copy of the letter and that the reporter could not reach a White House spokesperson for comment. On Nov. 1, the Courant reported that the White House was denying that Bush had written a letter, while a Nov. 2 story said Hudson admitted he had fabricated the tale.

“It is unfortunate that the story ran without us seeing the letter or talking to the White House,” Teutsch said in hindsight. “If there is responsibility here, it is not just with the reporter. It is with all of us.” He said no action had been taken against Canfield for the story and did not believe he would be punished.

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