A Mirror.co.uk reporter was “fooled” by a parody website into claiming a US televangelist had said the victims of a gay nightclub shooting were killed as “God’s punishment for same-sex marriage”.
The story was published on 12 June, hours after 49 people were slain at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in an alleged terrorist attack.
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The headline read: “US televangelist Pat Robertson says Orlando shootings are ‘God’s punishment’ for same sex marriage”.
Robertson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the story was inaccurate and was based on quotes used in an article on parody website politicalo.com.
He claimed the website had a button labelled “show facts” which, once clicked, highlighted which elements of the story are accurate and that this feature “made it obvious that the website’s stories are parodies and are not true”.
The Mirror’s article was online for two hours before being taken down. It issued a correction that was live on its homepage for 10 hours and remains searchable.
The correction read: “On 12 June 2016, we published an article about US religious broadcaster Dr Pat Robertson under the headline “Orlando shootings are ‘God’s punishment’ for same-sex marriage, claims US TV evangelist Pat Robertson”.
“It has since been brought to our attention that Dr Robertson never made such claims. The statement that appeared in our article originated on a parody news website in the US and the statements are untrue. We are happy to clarify this position.”
The Mirror said it accepted the article was inaccurate but that there was “no failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information”.
Said IPSO: “The publication said that the item was spotted by the news desk in London, and the publication’s US correspondent was asked to look into it.
“It said that comments quoted in the source article were consistent with the complainant’s anti-homosexual rhetoric, of which it provided a number of examples, and the article was written up in an authentic manner; it said that its reporter had been fooled by the report.
“It said that it did try to get a comment from the TV station that the complainant works for, but the telephone was not answered.”
In its defence to IPSO, the Mirror said: “Errors will be made in the fast moving world of the internet, particularly in the case of a fast-developing story like the Orlando shootings, and as long as they are addressed when discovered or reported, then every action of a journalist should not be picked apart.”
It also said that the corrective action it had taken was “sufficient and proportionate” and was published at a “sociable time” for US viewing.
IPSO’s Complaint’s Committee found there had been a breach of Clause 1 (accuracy) of the Editor’s Code of Conduct) and so upheld Robertson’s complaint.
“The content and tone of the article the quotes had been taken from, as well as that of the other articles published on that website, gave a clear indication that the article was a parody,” it said.
“While the committee noted the past comments made by the complainant on the topic of homosexuality, the comments attributed to him in this instance were particularly serious given that they were purported to have been made in the immediate aftermath of the Orlando shootings.”
The Committee found that as a correction had been published there was no further action needed.