The Times retracts Oliver Kay’s “Qatar Dream League” story with an apology that doesn’t make the homepage

The Times have made a full and frank retraction of Oliver Kay’s “Qatar Dream League” story. But appear to have forgotten to put it on their homepage…

When I made a “diff” examining the changes between the two proposed Royal Charters on press regulation, one of the differences I noted was about whether a press regulator would have the power to “require apologies” or to “direct” apologies and corrections. The latter implies that newspapers would have to give corrections and apologies similar billing to the original offending story.

Of course, with the charter barely mentioning websites at all, it is unclear how that would apply digitally.

I mention this again because of an extraordinary apology and correction from the Times about Oliver Kay’s Qatar Dream League story.

Last week I blogged that, facing allegations that the whole story had been lifted from a spoof story on a French website, Oliver Kay had been bullish in defending it in a live web chat, saying:

“Cahiers du Football was absolutely not the source of my story — 100 per cent, 1,000 per cent, 175 million per cent. I have copious amounts of handwritten notes, as well as e-mails and texts, that would confirm this…I have no idea what CdF’s modus operandi is. They claim to have made their story up — right down to the “Dream Football League” logo that appeared on their story, which has also been on e-mails that have been sent to me by the prime source of my story. I’m absolutely not the type of journalist to run a story of this magnitude — which would invite scepticism in any case, never mind when there are claims being made by a French website that they made it up — on the basis of a single source. And particularly not a source that, by its own admission, is low on credibility. If anything, I’m risk-averse as a journalist. If I was the type to take punts based on what one person had told me, I would have run the Harry Redknapp sacking story on the day of England-Belgium last June (about ten days before it could actually get stood up) and the Kenny Dalglish sacking story two days before it happened. Would I really risk my reputation on something like this? No.”

Today the Times published: “When we are wrong, we will hold our hands up. It’s the right thing to do” In it they explain that the story came from a source who had previously given Kay reliable information.

“After the event, it is easy to look into the background of an individual and proclaim that minimal research would have unmasked an unreliable source. This is to misunderstand the world of football. All kinds of chancers attach themselves to the game. As the sport becomes ever more bloated by money, these dubious characters are drawn to the periphery of the game, attracted by the opportunity of a share of the cash. It is not unusual for football journalists to have a contact whose past looks murky under close scrutiny.”

The apology/correction goes on to explain:

“Initially, The Times launched a strong defence of the story and the reporter. However, the paper also launched an investigation by its internal ombudsman.

Over the three days that followed the publication of the story, it appeared increasingly clear that Kay and the paper had been duped. And that the checks from the office in London had not been stringent enough in the rush to publication.

This is an unusual situation. Normally, when a story is disputed, lawyers become involved. Individuals and organisations demand retractions and writs are issued. Here, it did not happen. It would have been possible to ride out the storm, tell the world that time would vindicate the newspaper and allow memories of the furore to fade away.

But that is not how The Times does things. We value our reputation. There will be changes now to the way we operate, and an extra level of scepticism will be incorporated into our working practices.

But one thing will not change. If we get it wrong, we will hold our hands up and admit it.”

But here’s the rub.

The original story occupied pride of place on the Times homepage.

Of today’s retraction there is not a trace.

The homepage of The Times this morning

The homepage of The Times this morning

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