USA Today Explains Spiked Story

Earlier today Betsy reported about the mysterious  USA Today story that went missing from the newspaper’s website within an hour of landing a coveted link on the Drudge Report.  Headlined “U.S. Jews not able to fly on Delta flights to Saudi Arabia,” the article described a partnership between Delta and Saudi Arabian Airlines that would essentially discriminate against Jews, Israelis and people of non-Islamic faith who hoped to enter Saudi Arabia via Delta Airlines.  The article was live on the site for less than an hour before it vanished, leading links to a dead web page.  USA Today later redirected readers to a toned-down version of the story on its Religion blog.

So what happened?  And what would cause the nation’s most circulated newspaper to spike a story without explanation?

According to Executive Editor Chet Czarniak, the post was pulled because USA Today brass felt it “needed more sourcing.”  It turns out the newspaper’s big scoop was not a scoop at all.  The story was repackaged from a Religion News Service piece and actually contained no original reporting. Czarniak says it’s because of USA Today’s lack of involvement in the sourcing and news gathering efforts that the story was yanked when specific elements of the article were called into question.

“I wouldn’t say the Religion News Service information was inaccurate,” Czarniak told FishbowlDC.  “We just felt the item required expanded reporting and lacked the appropriate sourcing for our standards.  It would have been impossible to pull just the unsourced pieces so we made the decision to kill the entire thing until we could advance and verify the story,” he explained.

Czarniak says he doesn’t take removal of content from the paper’s website lightly.  “I can only recall two other times we’ve had to do that,” he said.  “Both times were the result of an editor accidentally publishing a piece that was meant to remain in draft.”

So who’s to blame for yesterday’s gaffe?  The jury’s still out but Czarniak says USA Today accepts full responsibility for pulling the piece without a replacement or explanation.  “We were wrong for leaving the page blank for 20 minutes.  The transparency just wasn’t there,” he conceded.  “That’s something we have to tighten up.”