Journalism has suffered many slings and arrows of late, with layoffs and cutbacks at virtually every media outlet I can think of. The pressure on journalists to get scoops, or worse, eyeballs on their stories, is intense. In recent weeks, some big errors by journalists have hurt the profession’s reputation, already in low esteem, and cost a few people their jobs. At CNN, three senior reporters resigned after the network had to retract a story claiming that Anthony Scaramucci, a former hedge funder, Trump supporter and administration official, was under investigation regarding a Russian investment fund–even though they had been told it was not true. Given the lies from the Trump administration, perhaps it’s not surprising they did not believe it. Scaramucci (whom I’ve interviewed before) turned up in another story, one that I wrote, which corrected a false—and in my view defamatory—story about hedge fund manager Bill Ackman (another source of mine) by Fox Business reporter Charles Gasparino, once a good journalist who now spends as much time fighting Twitter wars (and claiming his detractors are living in their mother’s basement) as he does reporting. His antipathy towards Ackman is legendary.
Gasparino’s “fake news” story, which had no on-the-record sources, claimed a hedge fund mogul (Ackman) had disrespected the dead son of Joe Biden, and went viral Friday night –just around the time most people on Wall Street are off to the Hamptons for the summer and not in a position to respond. It was picked up by a wide variety of sources in the constant effort to add click bait to their sites. It had no on-the-record sources, and the outlets who repeated it—including the NY Post, Fortune, New York, The Daily News, Slate and Business Insider—had not confirmed it. All but the Post had not even made the effort.
The story, as juicy as it sounded, was little more than a lie—cobbling together a few accurate sentences to form a totally false picture. With four sources—three of them on the record–I was able to write the true story of what happened between Biden and Ackman for New York on Monday, three days after the damage had been done.