When news organizations get things wrong, industry standards call for a correction.
But yesterday The Guardian went further, deleting a report about Rupert Murdoch's wife headlined "Wendi Deng flirts with Ricky Gervais after joining husband on Twitter."
The report came soon after Mr. Murdoch himself joined Twitter on Dec. 31, sending media and tech reporters into a frenzy of micro-textual analysis. The appearance on Twitter looked like an attempt to humanize the News Corp.CEO, who was dragged before Parliament last year to answer questions about phone hacking by News Corp.'s News of the World. "Great time in sea with young daughters, uboating," one post said. "I LOVE the film 'we bought a zoo', a great family movie," said another. "Very proud of fox team who made this great film."
People "close to the company," however, told The New York Times that he signed up on a whim during vacation in the Caribbean, and without consulting the communications staff.
In any case, the door was open for foolery. Twitter erroneously called the subsequent @Wendi_Deng account "verified." Then News Corp. said it wasn't her: Ms. Deng hadn't joined Twitter under that handle, much less used it to flirt with anyone.
The Guardian left its headline intact but replaced the article with a note saying it had deleted the report. But why not just add a correction? It hardly seemed concerned about alienating Mr. Murdoch in its exposes last year on the News of the World. And newspapers' correction policies usually err on the side of disclosing mistakes; deleting a whole article could obscure them.
It turns out that the paper occasionally erases entire articles when the premise, not just an element or two, is proven false.
"In normal circumstances when it transpires that a story contains any factually incorrect elements we would make the relevant amendments to the article and footnote the piece to reference the changes that have been made," a spokeswoman for Guardian News and Media said. "However, this particular instance is unusual -- though not unique -- in that once it was established that the Twitter account was a hoax, the whole story became incorrect, which is why it was deleted."
The Guardian previously deleted a report on NASA's list of the most absurd sci-fi movies after NASA said it never made any such list -- apparently more of a problem than we knew last week, when many outlets parroted a false press release about our list of sexiest ads.
Mr. Murdoch's new Twitter account at @rupertmurdoch continues to actually be his.