Amanda Knox was declared not guilty of murder Monday in a moment that was hugely anticipated by her supporters, trial watchers and the press.
As with many high profile stories, a few publications prepared copy ahead of the verdict’s delivery. But a few British publications made the error of publishing the news that Knox was guilty moments before she was set free.
The Daily Mail declared her guilt in a story complete with descriptions of how Knox appeared when she heard the verdict: “Amanda Knox looked stunned this evening after she dramatically lost her prison appeal against her murder conviction.”
“As Knox realized the enormity of what judge Hellman was saying she sank into her chair sobbing uncontrollably while her family and friends hugged each other in tears,” the piece continued.
Malcolm Coles, a London-based SEO consultant, noticed the story and first grabbed a photo of it.
A spokesperson for the Daily Mail told the Press Gazette that the publication will look into the incorrect story, which they said was live for 90 seconds, though some commenters claimed it was available online for much longer. A source from the paper said the quotes were given by the prosecutor in advance.
The Daily Mail, called by detractors the Daily Fail, has been criticized for lifting quotes, photos and even whole stories from other publications. Last month, the Mail was accused of rewriting Post writer Steve Hendrix’s story about an F-16 pilot ready to sacrifice herself on 9/11 and then contacting him to look for photos.
The site MailWatch.co.uk is devoted to following the Mail’s mistakes.
The Mail’s fellow tabloid competitor, The Sun, made the same blunder, publishing a headline that reported Knox was guilty.
The URL for the guilty page still exists., but redirects to the paper’s homepage. Sky News made the same error, according to the Press Gazette, though evidence of the mistake does not seem to exist now.
The Guardian made the slightly less obvious error of writing, “Knox has lost her appeal,” in a live blog.
The entry was replaced with the correct information and the paper apologized: “For clarification, this entry said Knox had lost the appeal, not the appeal on this specific charge. Apologies for this error.”
It’s possible that the publications heard the judge tell Knox she was guilty of defamation and jumped the publishing gun before hearing that she was innocent of the murder charge. In the highly competitive and fast-paced world of online journalism, this is more than likely what happened. But at least for these publications the correction could be made quickly. The Chicago Tribune didn’t have the same luxury in 1948.
(Thanks Alex Leo!)
Update: A BlogPost reader using the name “cf71,” let us know that a full screenshot of the Daily Mail article is available here. Thanks, cf71!
Update II: (Melissa Bell, here:) Once again, cf71 points us to some more information on this tale. Tim Ireland, an Irish blogger, reached out to the author of the advanced copy for a comment. The author, Nick Pisa, pointed Ireland to a Daily Mail correction that refers to the failed article as a “set and hold” piece. The correction states that the quotes were obtained prior to the verdict and reiterates that the false story was online for just over a minute — a claim Ireland calls “blatantly false and entirely irrelevant.”
While the timing discrepancy is odd, the more journalistically troubling part is soliciting quotes prior to an event happening. The Guardian writes in an Op-ed, “This is journalism's dirty secret. No, not that the Mail has made things up, but that journalism as a whole is often about process, not accuracy... It is standard practice in broadcast journalism to prepare alternative versions – often with pre-filmed ‘reaction’ quotes. The real sin here is that in the rush to be first, so many were simply first to be wrong.”
These pre-filmed quotes may be considered part of the process, but presenting them as if the lawyers said them after the verdict seems a gross misrepresentation of events and a violation of the Society of Professional Journalist's Code of Ethics.