Post sportswriter Mike Wise suspended for Roethlisberger hoax on Twitter

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 31, 2010; 10:29 PM

Mike Wise has tweeted himself into trouble.

The Washington Post sportswriter and columnist was suspended Tuesday for one month after deliberately posting a phony scoop on Twitter, an experiment to see how widely it would be picked up. Wise apologized and said he accepted the punishment for what he called a "horrendous mistake."

"I'm not a journalism ombudsman," Wise said in an interview, "and I found that out in a very painful, hard way. I need to take my medicine and move on, and promise everybody this will never happen again."

Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli said he could not comment on a personnel matter. "We have a policy, and we expect people to follow it," he said.

That policy -- adopted last fall after some opinionated tweets by Managing Editor Raju Narisetti, who has since closed his Twitter account -- says that on social networks, "nothing we do must call into question the impartiality of our news judgment. We never abandon the guidelines that govern the separation of news from opinion, the importance of fact and objectivity, the appropriate use of language and tone, and other hallmarks of our brand of journalism."

On Monday at 12:01 p.m., the "Mike Wiseguy" account posted this on Twitter: "Roethlisberger will get five games, I'm told." The reference was to suspended Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and how many games he will be forced to miss after a 20-year-old college student accused him of sexually assaulting her in a Georgia nightclub.

Wise had planned to fess up five minutes later with another tweet but didn't notice, while doing his WJFK-FM radio show, that his Twitter account was frozen, part of a temporary glitch, and his post did not appear for 30 to 40 minutes. In a subsequent tweet, Wise joked that his source was a "casino employee in Lake Tahoe." He explained on the show that he was trying to demonstrate that "anyone will print anything."

A number of Web sites, from the Miami Herald to NBC's ProFootballTalk, picked up the original tweet, attributing it to Wise but not trumpeting it as breaking news. Wise later apologized on Twitter.

On Tuesday, Wise told his listeners that "if I waited one second to make my intentions clear, I waited too long. . . . My own stupid, irresponsible experiment has cost me a chunk of my own credibility."

Some in The Post's newsroom found the suspension to be harsh, while others saw the penalty as too lenient, but Wise did not challenge it, saying, "I'm paying the price I should for careless, dumb behavior."

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