Washington Post Columnist Suspended For Hoax

Yesterday WASHINGTON POST columnist Mike Wise Tweeted that a source had told him that Ben Roethlisberger had been suspended for five games by the NFL in response to the Pittsburgh quarterback’s off-field issues.

Mike Wise Tweets that Ben Roethlisberger to be suspended five games by the NFL

The Twitter report from the Washington Post columnist and former NEW YORK TIMES reporter set off a chain reaction in the mainstream NFL media. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk at NBCSports.com, the PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, the MIAMI HERALD and the BALTIMORE SUN all subsequently cited Wise’s report, along with other main media outlets.

(Wise was quoted about Jayson Blair affair during his NY Times tenure)

The reaction of those outlets was yet more confirmation that Twitter is now viewed by main media as a legitimate medium for breaking news - even before that news is published by the employer of the individual breaking the story.

In other words, Washington Post columnist Wise’s move to first report a major scoop on Twitter is no longer uncommon in main media circles.

A couple hours after numerous main media outlets had cited his original report about Roethlisberger, Wise Tweeted his source on the story:

Mike Wise Tweets that Ben Roethlisberger to be suspended five games by the NFL

Then, in a series of subsequent Tweets, Wise revealed that his report about Roethlisberger had been a hoax and was designed to serve “as part of a bit on my show today … I tried to test the accuracy of social media reporting.” (Wise hosts a weekday radio show in D.C.)

Wise later Tweeted that, “I was right about nobody checking facts or sourcing.

Wise was apparently unaware that by citing his original report, numerous journalistic enterprises were counting on the Washington Post and former New York Times reporter’s own facts and sourcing on the story.

In reporting Wise’s report, many of the outlets never claimed to have original facts or sourcing on the story. The citation by those outlets was instead a referendum on the credibility of Wise and his Washington Post employer.

Via email, I asked Florio, who runs one of the main media outlets to cite Wise’s original report, what he thought of the hoax. He responded:

Wise claims that he wanted to prove that, in today’s media, ‘anybody will print anything.’ But this wasn’t ‘anything’; it was a facially plausible report from a man who makes his living at least in part as a reporter. It was at best a bad April Fool’s Day gag that came nearly five months too late, resulting in multiple writers carrying to their readers the journalistic equivalent of a virus. At worst, it was a window into Wise’s regard for the journalist’s unwavering obligation to the truth.

“Though he’ll surely never engage in such a hoax again, every reader is left to wonder whether Wise will at some point undermine the truth in order to advance some other objective unrelated to sharing truth with his audience. Either way, he has committed the worst possible offense against his profession.”

Not surprisingly, Wise has since apologized on his Twitter account.

Today, the Washington Post announced that Wise has been suspended for a month.

It’s ironic a decorated journalist such as Wise would knowingly report false information considering Wise was at the NEW YORK TIMES when the astonishing fraud of former Times reporter Jayson Blair was uncovered.

On May 14, 2003, the ASSOCIATED PRESS reported a reaction from Wise to what was perhaps the venerable newspaper’s darkest hour:

In a town hall-style meeting that drew hundreds of staff members, top editors at The New York Times apologized Wednesday for mistakes and oversights that allowed a former reporter to repeatedly fabricate and plagiarize material.

Reporters, editors and photographers crowded into a theater behind the Times’ offices for the session, called after the newspaper found that Jayson Blair “committed frequent acts of journalistic fraud” in stories from October through April. The meeting, closed to other media, lasted more than two hours.

“We’ve got some internal problems we need to take care of, and they’ re trying to take care of them the best they can,” said Mike Wise, a sports writer.

On September 18, 2005, Wise, who had subsequently moved on to the Washington Post, made an attempt at a joke about Blair while making football picks in one of his columns:

The Mountaineers busted the Terrapins in the mouth, 31-19, physically punishing a program that used to do the punishing. The loss sent the alma mater of Jayson Blair and Norman Chad spiraling to 0-2 at home.

Finally, five years before his own reporting hoax, Wise gave an on the record reaction to a recently-confirmed, fabricated DETROIT FREE PRESS column attributed to celebrated columnist and bestselling author Mitch Albom.

On April 20, 2005, Wise said:

“A lot of people are jealous of Mitch Albom and what he has become. A lot of vindictive people want to bring down the tallest tree.”

Two weeks before Wise made that comment, Albom had admitted that he made up part of the column in question.

Albom was later suspended by the Free Press - as was Wise today by his own employer.

Follow Brooks on Twitter for daily, hoax-free updates.