Reality TV

“This Was Devastating to Everybody”: Inside the New York Post’s Blowup Over a Bogus Story at the Border


On Friday evening, New York Post journalists will gather at a Lower Manhattan watering hole to toast Laura Italiano. The invitation reads, “Possible computer crime charges of aiding and abetting a Twitter trend by alleged social media influencer Laura Italiano. The silver-penned yarn spinner is expected to plead ‘Not guilty,’ citing her lack of technological savvy, and duck jail time thanks to her deep contacts on both sides of the bench.”

Current and former staffers are still gobsmacked by Italiano’s resignation. In a series of tweets last week, she announced she had quit after more than two decades at the rakish Rupert Murdoch tabloid. “The Kamala Harris story—an incorrect story I was ordered to write and which I failed to push back hard enough against—was my breaking point,” Italiano told her followers on April 27. The Post responded with a statement: “The New York Post does not order reporters to deliberately publish factually inaccurate information. In this case, the story was amended as soon as it came to the editors’ attention that it was inaccurate.”

The piece ended up on the front page of at least one of the Post’s April 24 print editions. Cover stories are usually bragging rights, but this one turned out to be more like a scarlet letter. First published online the previous evening, the article suggested that taxpayers had footed the bill for the distribution of Harris’s 2019 children’s book as part of a “welcome kit” given to migrant children at a Southern California shelter. In reality, there was evidence of only a single copy of the book, Superheroes Are Everywhere, on a single cot inside the Long Beach facility, and it turned out to have been gifted as part of a local donation drive.

The Post later took the story off of its website and republished it with an editor’s note acknowledging the error. But that didn’t happen before Republican politicians and conservative media—like the Post’s corporate cousin, Fox News—ran wild with the apocryphal yarn, dishing it out as red meat for the anti-Biden crowd, and elevating it to the podium of the White House press secretary. After the truth materialized, via a Washington Post fact-check, Murdoch’s Post was treated to a healthy serving of crow. And Italiano’s reputation, despite her penitent departure, was covered in mud. “Sweetie, you LIED,” snapped one of the random Twitter critics. On CNN’s State of the Union this past Sunday, Jake Tapper referred to Italiano as a “so-called journalist,” though not by name. “It was embarrassing and demoralizing,” a Post staffer told me. “This was devastating to everybody,” another agreed.

The episode appears to reflect larger tensions at the Post. Sources characterized it as a symptom of the intense and ever-growing pressure to crank out the type of cheap content that gets devoured online, especially now that the Post says it is profitable for the first time in eons. That said, I’m told this particular story was assigned for print. But stories that traffic in the culture wars, fearmongering, and general outrage—like the manufactured Harris scandal, or the vaccine-hysteria the Post recently injected into America’s bloodstream, before doing a 180 with a pro-vax front page—tend to perform well in the clickbait economy. There’s more bang for the buck when such stories can be quickly slapped together with little or no original reporting.

The children’s-book article was conceived based on a Reuters photograph. No one I spoke to was able to confirm precisely how everything went down, but one version of the backstory is that the item began as an extended photo caption and snowballed into the ensuing shit show; another is that Italiano’s original marching orders were to look into the Reuters image. There’s a lot of sympathy for Italiano, who is highly regarded among her peers, but even sympathetic sources acknowledge that she is not blameless. (Reached on her cell, Italiano declined to comment.) Overall, people just sound really bummed about the whole thing, and about the state of the Post in general. One disenchanted staffer said, “The Post has always been a balancing act of catering to the masses and the elites. Lately, it feels as if everything is now for the masses.”

The imbroglio unfolded in the wake of a recent leadership change. The new top brass is Keith Poole, imported from Murdoch’s British tabloid operation. Poole is credited with supercharging The Sun’s flailing website, and is now tasked with charting the Post’s digital domination. Previously, Poole worked for more than a decade at the rival Daily Mail, whose massive online mojo is the envy of competing tabloids everywhere. “If they see something at the top of the Mail, they’ve gotta get it too,” a former Post journalist said. “Overall, I think that’s kind of what got to Laura, and the fact that she was getting hammered over this story.” Another one of Italiano’s erstwhile colleagues told me, “What happened to her is making me sick. I think she became the latest victim of this insane culture-war moment, where the right is desperately searching for something nuts to go at Biden about, and the left is completely punishing and unforgiving.”





Source link