The News Sites That Reported the Wrong Knox Verdict

It’s a newspaper pitfall as old as the industry: Prematurely running a headline that says the opposite of the news. It happened to Harry Trumanin 1948, it happened with a supposed house full of bodies in Texas in June, and it happened to Amanda Knox, who was convicted in a few initial reports in U.K. papers before it emerged, definitively, that she had been freed. Knox, who was convicted of murdering her British roommate in 2009, won her appeal on Monday and was released from prison immediately. She was found guilty of slander for her previous testimony, and ordered to pay court fees, but she was definitely cleared of the murder. In Britain, where victim Meredith Kercher’s family said she’d been “forgotten,” people were as riveted by the case as they were in the United States. For newspaper editors trying to be first, pre-writing stories trumpeting Knox’s guilt turned out to be a mistake. The Daily Mail went so far as to describe Knox “collapsing in tears” upon having her appeal denied:

The URL for that story now leads to an error message that reads, “The page you have requested does not exist or is no longer available.” But not only did they get the headline wrong, the AFP’s Alex Ogle pointed out that they managed to find “sources” who got it wrong, too, as his tweeted screencaps show:

In a similar case of premature publishing, The Sun ran this headline with a lede that read, “the 24-year-old American will now be returned to jail in Perugia, Italy.”

Again, the URL now leads to an error message.

Even the normally staid Guardian, which enjoys a reputation as a more sober (and accurate) news source than its tabloid competitors, initially reported in its live blog that Knox had lost her appeal. It deleted the entry shortly afterward.

The live blog at 8:48 p.m. local time:

Shortly afterward, the entry was removed:


WikiLeaks Cables Show How Big Pharma Shapes Foreign Policy

A new cache of diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks shows how big pharmaceutical companies’ lobbying efforts threaten “to taint US diplomatic relations in emerging nations,” The Fix’s Jed Bickman and Walter Armstrong write. Big Pharma pushes American diplomats to pressure host countries —  the Philippines, Turkey, and India, for example — to help them make more money, often by limiting the country from making its own generic version of the drugs and extending the length of patents so the companies can charge a premium price for longer.

The Fix writes that the memos “by no means paint a uniform portrait of government lackeys doing industry’s bidding.” But few weigh in on the moral problems with keeping drug prices high in poor countries with a lot of people who need them. “Only a single cable — from the outgoing US ambassador to Poland in 2009 — lays bare the vast greed that drives these complex, highly technical negotiations.” That ambassador’s case study is quite interesting:
When George W. Bush appointed his former Yale roommate, Victor Ashe, as ambassador to Poland, this issue became a constant demand on his time. Almost as soon as he arrived in Warsaw, the former Knoxville, Tennessee, mayor became the obedient mouthpiece of American drug companies’ interests, writing a letter urging the Ministry of Health not to lower the prices of the drugs on that list. Each year of his tenure, his office would obsess over the announcement of that list, sending detailed cables to Washington about which companies and products had gained access to the Polish market. (“None of Eli Lilly’s products were added, a blow to the company. Eli Lilly’s officials observed that the Ministry has offered no explanation.”)

Kim Jong-Il’s Book Club; Iran Covers Occupy Wall Street

Authoritarian regimes dream through propaganda and so, to see what they’re fantasizing about, we regularly check in on what state-controlled media outlets have been churning out

Kim Jong-il’s pearls of wisdom are now enlarged

Get it while you still can! The state-run Korean Central News Agency is reporting that the the Workers’ Party of Korea Publishing House has unveiled an enlarged edition of volume 12 of the Selected Works of Kim Jong-il (the accompanying photo suggests Kim opted to go with the simple yet sleek cover design). Not surprisingly, KCNA is enamored with the book, noting that works such as “On Establishing the Revolutionary Creative Spirit and Lifestyle among Writers and Artistes” offer “perfect answers to issues arising in the production of literary and arts works.” In fact, KCNA, like many other state-controlled news outlets, has an entire section on its site devoted to its leader’s writings along with a section on “Kim Jong-il’s Activities” (see our previous coverageof KCNA’s ongoing series on Kim Jong-il looking powerful). Nestled below these headings, in smaller front, are less important sections like World and Economy.

Cuba talks out of both sides of its mouth

One of the limitations of this column is that we generally round up propaganda by consulting the English-language versions of state-run news sites, which may be directed at a foreign rather than domestic audience and tailored thusly. As we’ve noted before, the English-language versions of the Cuban News Agency and the Cuban Communist Party’s Granma newspaper obsessively cover the case of the “Cuban Five,” who were convicted by a U.S. court in 2001 of attempting to infiltrate U.S. military facilities in Florida (Cuba claims they’re political prisoners). But the Spanish-language versions of the same sites cover the case less relentlessly.

Today provides a case in point. While two of the top three stories on Granma English are about the case (see screenshot on right), Granma Español is running only one piece on the topic as a lead story. Three of the top six stories at the Cuban News Agency are about the Cuban Five, but the homepage of the Agencia Cubana de Noticias makes little mention of the case. In fact, the Cuban News Agency even has a section at the bottom of its homepage devoted to the Cuban Five. What replaces that section at the Agencia Cubana de Noticias? “Curiosities.”

Occupy Wall Street Occupies Iran

Back in August, we noted how Iran’s state-run media was relishing the opportunity to turn the tables on the country’s Western critics and chastise British officials for their handling of the London riots. Iranian news outlets appear equally gleeful this week in their coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement in the U.S. Press TV is covering the story from a variety of angles, playing the role of aggregator (a brief quotes The Nation‘s John Nichols talking about “long-term frustrations” in the U.S.), wire service (one article reads, “Quick Facts: ‘Occupy Wall Street‘”), and media critic. The mainstream media in the U.S. is ignoring the protests, Press TV declares:

Myanmar Sends Felicitations

We’ve discussed before how the state-run New Light of Myanmar‘s propaganda strategy is to essentially be boring. But the news outlet has taken boring to a new level today. The top four stories read, in order: “President U Thein Sein sends message of felicitations to President of ROK,” “President U Thein Sein sends message of felicitations to German President,” “President U Thein Sein sends message of felicitations to Prime Minister of ROK,” and “President U Thein Sein sends message of felicitations to German Chancellor.” The sleep-inducing nature of the coverage reminds us of the state-run Saudi Press Agency, which features one official sit-down after another.

How Did Buckingham Palace Miss a Corpse Rotting 100 Yards Away?

Back in March, The Telegraph reports this week, a gardener working for London’s Royal Parks was clearing leaves on West Island, 100 yards from Buckingham Palace, when he stumbled upon a skeleton that a pathologist later estimated had been on the island for three years. The paper explains that the remains belonged to an American man named Robert James Moore who was obsessed with Queen Elizabeth and appears to have set up camp on the island in St. James’s Park in view of the palace after moving to the U.K. in 2007. The details about the packages Moore sent to the Queen over the years–obscene photos, 600-page letters, boxes pretending to contain dangerous substances–are unsettling, but equally strange is how Buckingham Palace missed a corpse just outside its doors for three years. Reports in the British press suggest two main reasons why this happened. 

For starters, West Island, unlike Buckingham Palace, is not bustling with tourists and Londoners. A spokesman for The Royal Parks explained in a statement that the island is reserved for wildlife–mostly ducks and swans, as you can see from the photo above–and not accessible to the public (the Royal Parks identifies West Island, along with the nearby Duck Island, as “nesting sites” for waterfowl). The only way to reach the island, The Telegraph explainsis “by swimming or wading across the shallow lake, or by taking a boat”–something people do on occasion, at least according to a homeless man in St. James’s Park whom the paper interviews. The area of St. James’s Park where West Island is located–shown in the bottom right of the Google Earth screenshot below–is also full of trees and foliage (The Royal Parks says Moore was found in “thick undergrowth”). The Telegraph‘s Christopher Howse points out that St. James’s Park in general has been a sketchy location–“just the place for a hermit”–since the 18th century.

The Royal Parks may have also missed Moore’s body because its Wildlife Officers only prune trees and inspect West Island closely every two years (the gardener discovered Moore’s remains during one of these inspections). “Going forward we are planning to carry out thorough inspections on a more regular basis,” a Royal Parks spokesman promised this week.

In case it’s not yet clear just how close West Island is to Buckingham Palace, here’s a map of St. James’s Park from The Royal Parks:

At Least the Auto Industry Is Doing Well

The economic forecast looked bleak at the end of September, as markets closed for the worst month in three years on Friday. But at least one industry is faring well: The once-dying then-rescued auto industry. Ford, Chrystler and GM all posted increased sales. Meanwhile, Japanese automakers Honda and Toyota showed declines while still recovering from the March earthquake. Reuters reports:


Among the Detroit automakers, GM sales rose 20 percent, while Ford Motor Co sales rose 9 percent and Chrysler Group was up 27 percent.

Sales for Toyota Motor Corp dropped almost 18 percent for September, its first month at normal production levels since the March earthquake in Japan. Honda Motor Co sales declined by 8 percent.

The strong sales for expensive purchases has given hope about the broader economy. “Major automakers posted double-digit percentage U.S. sales gains for September in a rebound that General Motors Co said showed the economy was likely to steer clear of a double-dip recession,” reports Reuters.

Today’s Research: The Nobel Winners Reactions

Today in research: other Nobel winners, the usefulness of nose things, an “alternative” vaccination schedule and the odd sounds captured during a meteor shower..

How the other Nobel winners reacted to the news today. Thebittersweet report of scientist Ralph Steinman dying only three days before being awarded with the Nobel prize in medicine–and its status (it will still be awarded posthumously)–dominated the headlines about the Nobel announcement. But Steinman was only one of three scientists honored for immune system advances. Bloomberg News caught up with honoree Dr. Bruce A. Beutler of the Scripps Research Institute, who reacted this way: “I woke up in the middle of the night, and glanced at my cell phone, and the first thing I saw was a message line that just said the words ‘Nobel Prize,'” he said. ‘Needless to say, I grabbed it and started looking at messages. Wow.”  French scientist Dr. Jules Hoffman was quite humbled in a conversation with the AP saying, “I wasn’t sure this domain merited a Nobel.” [Bloomberg NewsAssociated Press]

Tiny nose things may prove to be helpful in autopsies. This is a bit of morbid research news, but scientists appear to have figured out another way to accurately assess when a person has died. Curiously, it’s because “tiny finger-like projections lining the nose continue to beat after death,”New Scientist reported, parsing the findings of a researcher from the University of Bari in Italy. What are deemed “nasal cilia” are said to “provide an additional tool to help decide time of death, especially if it was within the previous 24 hours.” [New Scientist]

Sometimes an ‘alternative’ vaccination schedule means no vaccination schedule. Another example of just how pervasive the now-retracted 1998 Lancet study purporting an autism-vaccine link may still be. About 1 in 10 parents cited in a new study relayed by Reuters refused “some vaccines or delaying vaccines until kids were older–mostly because parents thought that ‘seemed safer.'” The researchers “worry that more parents may be refusing vaccines in the future, raising the risk that diseases like measles and whooping cough will spread in schools and communities.” [Reuters]

A lot of new galaxies will be presumably named in 2013. That’s when the newly-opened €1 billion internationally operated Atacama Large Millimetre/Sub-millimetre Array (ALMA) observatory situated in the clear-skyed mountains above the Chilean Andes will be fully up and running, The Guardian reports (a pretty impressive, and very dramatically scored video of the construction of the site is available here). And when it gets going, look out: “when it is fully operational in 2013, the observatory will find a previously unseen galaxy every three minutes.” [The Guardian]

The odd whistles and whirrs of a meteor shower.Bad Astronomy blogger Phil Plait points to this video posted by astronaut Ron Garan and explains what things we’re hearing in the meteor shower audio below from the “U.S. Air Force Space Surveillance Radar in Texas during the Perseid meteor shower.” The little scrapes and soft noises accompany photos of the shower, which are described by Plait this way: “The initial ‘whoosh’ is from the meteor itself, and the dying whistling sound is from the ionized gas it leaves behind, which slowly recombines and fades.” [Bad Astronomy]