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For Post Web Site, It's A World Wide Whoops

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 24, 2007

Well, the Washington Post's Web site screwed up the John Edwards story too.

For 51 seconds.

And it was an accident, of the cringe-inducing variety.

The Democratic presidential candidate had already announced that he was continuing his campaign despite the recurrence of his wife's cancer, when washingtonpost.com put up a headline at 12:32:20 p.m. Thursday: "John Edwards Suspends White House Bid." There was no accompanying story, just a one-sentence bulletin.

By 12:33:11 it was down -- replaced by the real breaking-news story, headlined "Edwards: Wife's Cancer is Back" -- but not because anyone had caught the mistake. Editors were simply updating what they thought was an earlier piece about Edwards's imminent news conference with the actual news.

"You don't like a bad story on the Web site for one second or 51 seconds," said Jim Brady, executive editor of washingtonpost.com, who has apologized to readers. "It's embarrassing it got out there."

Especially embarrassing because I reported in The Post yesterday that Politico.com and Reuters, each quoting an unnamed source, had carried pieces before the former senator's news conference in North Carolina saying that Edwards was going to suspend his campaign.

Brady said the Web site had prepared three different versions of the headline and story summary -- on Edwards suspending his campaign, dropping out or staying in -- so that it could move quickly once the candidate announced his plans. Brady still isn't sure how the mistake happened.

"It was not an error of journalism," he said. "It was an error of production. . . . Nobody knows how it got up, because nobody hit the publishing button," Brady said.

Leonard Downie Jr., the newspaper's executive editor, said he was upset that the newsroom was not notified about the Web site's goof. "This was a big story," Downie said. "The fact that we had a wrong report up for 51 seconds -- even though it was unintentional -- should have been known to us in the newsroom." The Web operation, based in Arlington, is managed separately from the newspaper's downtown newsroom.

Brady said he learned of the foul-up early Thursday afternoon after a tip had been carried on the Media Bistro blog Fishbowl DC.

"The mistake I made was in not alerting people that it had happened, because it was a high-profile story," Brady said. "We should have been up front."


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