Radar Online published a curious story Saturday that led with this: "Jenny McCarthy wants everyone to know that her son WAS diagnosed with autism and she’s never thought otherwise."
Excuse me, but didn't we know that? And why the emphasis on "was"?
That's because this story followed a Radar report hours earlier claiming that Jenny McCarthy had revealed that her son did not have autism. That would have been huge news. McCarthy is by far the most vocal and visible critic of vaccines, alleging that they caused her son's autism. If he doesn't have autism, her case collapses. (There is no case to start with -- there is no link between vaccines and autism. But even her own argument would collapse if her son did not have autism.)
Radar's error provoked a storm of reaction, not least from McCarthy herself, who has reportedly threatened to sue Radar. (I use the word "reportedly" with trepidation in this context.)
But this wasn't just a simple error: Radar made almost every error it's possible to make.
First, it published incorrect information.
Second, it attributed that information to a "new" TIME magazine article that was actually published in 2010.
Third, the TIME story by Karl Taro Greenfield did not say that McCarthy had changed her mind. Here's what it did say (paywall):
There are dark murmurings from scientists and doctors asking, Was her son ever really autistic? Evan's symptoms--heavy seizures, followed by marked improvement once the seizures were brought under control--are similar to those of Landau-Kleffner syndrome, a rare childhood neurological disorder that can also result in speech impairment and possible long-term neurological damage. Or, as other pediatricians have suggested, perhaps the miracle I have beheld is the quotidian miracle of childhood development: a delayed 2-year-old catching up by the time he is 7, a commonplace, routine occurrence, nothing more surprising than a short boy growing tall.
Note that this did not come from McCarthy. It was speculation.
Fourth, when Radar discovered its mistake, it simply hit delete. It did not acknowledge the error nor did it explain to confused viewers what happened. Depending upon how you get to the site, you either see the replacement story or this: "This should not be on your Radar..."
This is the first thing Radar got right. Its story should not be on your radar. I searched the site and the web for evidence of a correction or the initial story, and I couldn't find either one.
I did, however, find the original story in Google's cache. Here's the headline: "Changing Her View? Jenny McCarthy Abandons Controversial Position On Vaccines And Says Her Son May Not Have Autism After All!"
This is not only a mistake, or a series of mistakes, but a violation of the most basic compact that a news site can have with its readers -- to tell the truth and to honestly admit mistakes and correct them -- not to beam them into Internet obscurity.
Even celebrity journalism deserves better than this.
Follow Paul Raeburn on Twitter: www.twitter.com/praeburn