Right before noon on April 16, the New York Post quietly surrendered and conceded its big scoop from the previous day, that 12 people had been killed by the Patriot's Day terrorist attack in Boston, could no longer be sustained.
The concession didn't come in the form of a correction or a clarification. (Rupert Murdoch's money-losing daily rarely bothers with such newsroom niceties). It simply appeared in a news story posted on the daily's website at 11:55 a.m., where any reference to 12 Boston victims was quietly dropped [emphasis added]:
The twin blasts killed at least three people and injured 176 -- including 17 in critical condition, authorities said today.
Four hours later, the Post reaffirmed that it had flushed its big scoop down the memory hole [emphasis added]:
A 29-year-old restaurant manager from suburban Boston and an 8-year-old boy from the city's Dorchester neighborhood were identified today as two of the three people killed in the Boston Marathon bombings.
But that wasn't all.
Right around 3 p.m. on April 16, the Post quietly conceded its other big scoop from the day before was wrong; its claim that a Saudi national student had been taken "into custody" by police, was tagged a "suspect". ("Suspect" was later amended to a "potential suspect.) That second embarrassing concession was announced on the daily's twitter feed:
Investigators rule out Saudi national as a suspect in Boston bombing after searching his apartment nyp.st/Zougoy-- New York Post (@nypost) April 16, 2013
It's not the most pressing question to ponder in the wake of the carnage that exploded in Boston, as authorities search for those responsible. But in terms of journalism and ethics and common sense, the Post's performance does make you wonder how a news organization, and even one owned by Rupert Murdoch, manages to get a story that wrong?
I understand it's the notoriously deceitful New York Post we're talking about. It's one thing to make stuff up about Democrats on behalf of the RNC while the Post proudly plays its role as cog in the Republican Noise Machine. But to completely botch, and so publicly, botch one of the biggest crime story in years?
If there's anything the Post, as a proud big-city tabloid, is supposed to be good at, it's big crime stories; working cop sources as well as sources buried deep inside the FBI and the federal government. The Post is supposed to be wired all across law enforcement, even if the breaking story unfolds in Boston.
So this debacle is bad; really bad. Even for the New York Post.
I don't pretend to have any real insight into how Murdoch thinks, and especially what he thinks of his media properties. I do understand they do not easily embarrass him. But for someone who sees himself as a global media baron and a Very Serious Person, watching his beloved New York flagship newspaper become a laughingstock amidst the biggest U.S. terror story in a decade cannot be a pleasant experience.
Keep in the mind the Post's breathless reporting then prompted Fox News' Fox & Friends morning crew on Tuesday to hype the hollow story, with co-host Brian Kilmeade drumming up suspicion about the Saudi student:
KILMEADE: This Saudi national that is a person of interest in the hospital right now who we've gone through his apartment. How unusual is it for the bomber, who is not a homicide bomber, to be a victim? Evidently he had burns on him and smelled like gunpowder. What does that make you conclude?
Fox's Andrew Napolitano, listing the reasons why the Saudi student aroused suspicion, actually said it was because he "appeared more concerned" after the bomb detonated and rained chaos down on Boylston Street. (Was there anyone within a mile who looked less concerned at that moment?)
It really was a case of the Murdoch blind at the Post leading the Murdoch blind at Fox News.
And speaking of Murdoch, here's the larger, looming question to ponder in the wake of this week's newsroom fiasco: How much longer will the Post even be around to screw things up?
Just hours before the Boston blast, Murdoch-biographer Michael Wolff wrote in the Guardian that the aging media owner will surely outlive his prized, pugnacious daily, as "the Post's day of reckoning nears." That's because the Post hemorrhages money, as much as $110 million annually, and can only survive because of Murdoch's constant largess. (So much for the rigors of the free marketplace.)
As BusinessWeek pointed out in 2005:
The Post has lost so much money for so long that it would have folded years ago if News Corp. applied the same profit-making rigor to the tabloid as it does to its other businesses.
What's now looming is Murdoch's restructuring of News Corp., which is being broken up into two separate entities. One will operate as a newspaper, coupon, and book publishing firm, with newspapers published in Australia, Britain and the United States. The other, far larger and more lucrative entity, will be an entertainment company made up of the Fox TV network, Fox News, and the 20th Century Fox movie studio.
Murdoch's entertainment profits subsidized the Post's massive losses for years. Without those entertainment companies contributing to Murdoch's new publishing entity, what's going to sustain his money-losing daily in New York?
Better question: After its dreadful Boston performance, will anyone miss the Post when it's gone?