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Paper apologizes for fake seal hunt story

A Boston Globe freelance writer fabricated large chunks of a story published this week, the newspaper said Friday in the latest incident to embarrass the U.S. media.
/ Source: Reuters

A Boston Globe freelance writer fabricated large chunks of a story published this week, the newspaper said Friday in the latest incident to embarrass the U.S. media.

The Globe, which is owned by The New York Times Co., said it stopped using writer Barbara Stewart because of a story that ran on Wednesday about a seasonal hunt for baby seals off Newfoundland -- a hunt, it turns out, that had not taken place.

The story datelined Halifax, Nova Scotia, described in graphic detail how the seal hunt began Tuesday, with water turning red as hunters on some 300 boats shot harp seal cubs "by the hundreds."

The problem, however, was that the hunt did not begin Tuesday; it was delayed by bad weather and was scheduled to start Friday, weather permitting, the Globe said in an editor's note.

Stewart could not immediately be reached for comment.

The newspaper, which received a complaint from the Canadian government, said it should not have published the story and should have insisted on attribution for details because the writer was not reporting from the scene.

"Details included the number of hunters, a description of the scene, and the approximate age of the cubs. The author's failure to accurately report the status of the hunt and her fabrication of details at the scene are clear violations of the Globe's journalistic standards," it added.

Canada is extremely sensitive about the hunt, during which hundreds of thousands of seals are beaten to death or shot for their pelts every year. U.S. activists, who says the seals are killed inhumanely, are urging consumers to shun Canadian seafood until the hunt is stopped.

Canadian Fisheries Minister Geoff Regan said his officials had called the paper to point out the error.

"We've been trying to get the facts out about the seal harvest, the fact that the herd is very healthy ... that in 98 percent of cases it (the hunt) is done in a humane way," he told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Officials with the newspaper were not immediately available for further comment.

U.S. media organizations have been hit with a series of high-profile cases involving plagiarism or fabrication.

In 2003, The New York Times' top two editors, Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd, left the paper after it was disclosed that reporter Jayson Blair had fabricated and plagiarized material.

CBS News, The Washington Post, NBC News, CNN, the New Republic magazine and USA Today are among the other media icons caught up in celebrated flaps over inaccurate reporting.