When a member of Forbes' outside contributor network incorrectly referred to Irish President Michael Higgins as an "acknowledged homosexual," the magazine issued a strongly worded correction:
On July 23, an article appeared on [the Forbes website] about American UN Ambassador nominee Samantha Power that contained a serious error concerning the President of Ireland, Mr. Michael D. Higgins. Both Forbes and the author of the post David Monagan sincerely regret the error. Forbes will be issuing an apology to President Higgins in a separate correspondence.
That note now stands in place of the article, which the magazine removed after it was live for only a few hours.
"We have specific newsroom procedures," a Forbes spokeswoman said. "We examine every situation on an individual basis, and we felt our response in this instance was appropriate and warranted."
A number of media outlets covered the error, particularly the U.K.'s Independent, which characterized the mistake as one that would embarrass even a "local newspaper hack." Mr. Monagan, the author of the original post, called it the worst mistake of his career, according to The Independent.
But critics have now also questioned the reaction to the error, from both Forbes and the media at large. Instead of simply fixing the mistake and adding a correction beneath the article, the more standard approach to corrections, Forbes editors chose to remove the entire post and publicly promise to apologize directly to Mr. Higgins.
"I could not imagine the media reacting in the same manner if Forbes reported that he had three children instead of four, born in Dublin instead of Limerick, had been a member of Fianna Fail instead of the Labour Party," Peter Ferguson, a Ph.D student in Ireland, wrote on his blog, Skeptic Ink.
"None of these would have elicited such a reaction; in fact, Forbes could have reported that the President was a 6'3″, dark-haired, baritone," he added, "and this error would still not have garnered as much traction as the simple error of being called a homosexual."
Some Twitter users agreed with his take.
Forbes apology & authors "terrible" error calling Michael D gay. So terrible if he had called a gay person straight? http://t.co/f3T0zAGHjB— francis fitzgibbon (@francis_fitz) July 25, 2013
The Forbes spokeswoman said its actions have precedent. It has previously removed posts from the website and replaced them with apologies, she said, declining to provide examples.