Over the weekend, Jeffrey Gettleman, East Africa bureau chief for The New York Times, tweeted the following:
Still getting nasty msgs. I corrected error, apologized and had no intention to mislead. Never made a mistake? Please let me know.
— Jeffrey Gettleman (@gettleman) November 8, 2015
He is referring to an article that appeared online Nov. 4 and in print Nov. 5. A correction was added Nov. 6, explaining that some incendiary remarks attributed to Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe were in fact made up.
The source of the fakery was a Nov. 3 item in Kenya’s The Spectator. Although intended as satire, the brief item was not in any way tagged as such. Gettleman, in a Facebook post Friday that he also linked to via Twitter, explained his process of verification:
I emailed it [The Spectator item] to a Zimbabwean journalist in Harare to check if Mugabe had actually said those things. The Zimbabwean journalist told me that it appeared he had.
Many Kenyans, too, believed Mugabe had said those things. See this link.
After my article was published, I started receiving messages that the Mugabe quote was fake. I looked into it immediately and contacted The Spectator and an official in the Zimbabwean government. The Spectator admitted to fabricating the story, saying that it was using satire to fight corruption.
Gettleman, based in Nairobi, won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting. It’s likely very unusual for him to have not directly double-checked such a quote with the original source, in this case The Spectator, before publication.