Bloomberg Law quietly corrected its botched hit-job on Labor Department appointee Leif Olson, earlier this week, with instructions to staffers to keep the story on the down-low, the Washington Post’s media critic Erik Wemple reported on Friday.
“Please do not tweet out the story or about the story (or use any other social media to post anything). And really, please do not tweet even generally about Leif Olson coming back to the department, or engage with anyone on social media about it,” an editor at the paper instructed staffers in an internal email on Wednesday. “That is only likely to invite more twitter-rage.”
Last week Bloomberg Law reporter Ben Penn contacted the White House and Labor Department about what he portrayed as anti-Semitic posts from from Olson’s Facebook page in 2016.
In his article on Tuesday, Penn triumphantly reported that Olson had resigned on Friday “after revelations that he wrote a 2016 Facebook post suggesting the Jewish-controlled media ‘protects their own.’”
In truth, Penn had dug up the Facebook “revelations” himself and had misrepresented to the Trump administration what they meant. Once people took the time to read the posts, it became clear that Olson and his friends were actually mocking antisemitism.
Even so, Bloomberg Law on Tuesday stood by the report because Olson had been fired for the posts.
— ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) September 3, 2019
Wednesday night however, the Labor Department rectified its mistake and announced the reinstatement of Olson: “On Friday, August 30, 2019, Senior Policy Advisor of the Wage and Hour Division, Leif Olson offered his resignation and the Department accepted. Following a thorough reexamination of the available information and upon reflection, the Department has concluded that Mr. Olson has satisfactorily explained the tone of the content of his sarcastic social media posts and will return to his position in the Wage and Hour Division.”
In response, Bloomberg Law quietly changed its initial, erroneous headline that referred to “Anti-Semitic Facebook Posts” and replaced it with a slightly better title: “Trump Labor Aide Quits After Facebook Posts Surface (Corrected).”
Erik Wemple aptly explained the problem with Bloomberg Law’s corrected headline.
As for the “corrected” part, Bloomberg Law signaled the changes to the article with this italicized text: “In light of the subsequent events, we removed ‘Anti-Semitic’ from the headline and clarified Olson’s reference to those tropes.”
Readers with no grounding in this unfortunate sequence might emerge mystified as to how this all happened. For instance, the new headline suggests that this Facebook post magically surfaced, as opposed to the actual circumstances: Bloomberg Law dug it up and presented it to the Labor Department. Nor does the italicized text provide any hint that those “subsequent events” consisted of the world trying to clean up the mess left by Bloomberg Law.
Though Bloomberg Law fixed the most egregious falsehood in the story — regarding anti-Semitism, that is — it has left standing some absurd stretches of text. Consider this stuff, about how the Trump administration evaluates prospective hires:
Olson’s arrival at the agency, which was quietly noted in an online WHD organization chart, raises more questions about the Trump administration’s vetting system for political appointees.
Actually: Olson’s story raises no questions about the Trump administration’s personnel-vetting procedures. It raises questions about Bloomberg Law’s story-vetting procedures.
The fact that Bloomberg Law initially stood by the obvious smear, and prohibited staffers from sharing the correction, suggests something even worse. The paper is willing to throw journalistic ethics out the window in their zeal to publish stories that paint the Trump administration in a negative light. Only when the truth became undeniable did it resentfully retract the story, hoping that the scandal would soon blow over.
Meanwhile, even after his dishonest hit piece caused monumental embarrassment to his employer, Bloomberg Law reporter Ben Penn apparently still has his job.