An April Fools prank designed to trick bloggers into running with a contrived story ended up snaring the Gray Lady.
New York attorney Eric Terkewitz told his blog's readers on April 1 that he had been hired as the White House's "official law blogger." Unlike the political bloggers at which the stunt was aimed, the New York Times apparently did not check the claim, and posted the story to its website.
The incident serves as a reminder that, as journos like to say, "if your mother says she loves you, check it out."
The Times wrote on its City Room blog last week,
...After all, as Mr. Turkewitz, a Manhattan lawyer, writes on his New York Personal Injury Law Blog, he is about to be sounding off on all manner of legal issues as the Obama administration's new White House law blogger.
"Excited about new blogging gig as White House law blogger," he tweeted this morning. "But hope I don't have to spend too much time in D.C."
Spoken like a true New Yorker.
The passage has since been taken down.
Turkewitz admitted the jest the next day, and revealed his motivations for writing it.
The basic idea was this: A bunch of law bloggers would try to punk the political bloggers, whose reputation is to grab any old rumor and run with it. Fact checking hasn't always been the strong suit of this community.
But the political bloggers, to their collective credit, didn't bite, despite wide dissemination of the story. Not on the right or the left. Instead it was the vaunted New York Times that ran with the story without bothering to check its facts. The Times, of course, had no sense of humor about it when the angry phone call came to me a couple of hours later...
At 4:45, I received a phone call from an infuriated "Andy Newman" from the New York Times demanding to know if this was an April Fool's joke. Unlike the classy Ashby Jones, Newman had zero sense of humor and demanded that I answer "as an officer of the court" or he would pull the post down.
I tried not to laugh, and told him that due to concerns in the White House about me jumping the gun on the story (as per Orin Kerr's post @ Volokh), I really shouldn't say anything and would clear it up tomorrow. This clearly wasn't good enough for him as he hung up on me, and down came the NYT post. The Times, I guess, doesn't like being punked on April Fool's Day.
Next time, perhaps, they will fact check April 1st stories involving small-time law bloggers suddenly becoming White House law bloggers. Next time.
Maybe Old Media will take this faux pas into consideration the next time it derides "Drudge-driven journalism." Maybe. Regardless, this incident is a cautionary tale for everyone, MSM or otherwise.