Readers, I apologize. The premise of my debut column for Reuters, on News Corp’s taxes, was wrong, 100% dead wrong.
Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp did not get a $4.8 billion tax refund for the past four years, as I reported. Instead, it paid that much in cash for corporate income taxes for the years 2007 through 2010 while earning pre-tax profits of $10.4 billion.
For the first time in my 45-year-old career I am writing a skinback. That is what journalists call a retraction of the premise of a piece, as in peeling back your skin and feeling the pain. I will do all I can to make sure everyone who has read or heard secondary reports based on my column also learns the facts and would appreciate the help of readers in that cause.
No excuses. But I will explain how I made such a bonehead error. ...
The first suggestion I had erred came in the middle of the night when a post at taxprofblog (I teach at Syracuse University College of Law) said I had made an error. I checked the disclosures and then wrote back that the poster was in error. Still, the note troubled me and before dawn I was reviewing every document. As I was rechecking my work, Robert S. McIntyre of Citizens for Tax Justice, who is respected across the political spectrum for the care he takes with numbers, sent me a note saying I had it wrong. News Corp, he said, was using negative numbers to report outflows, rather than tax inflows, starting in 2007. ...
I often write tart notes at the Romenesko blog for journalists, the Columbia Journalism Review, Nieman Reports and elsewhere about what I consider flawed reporting by others. I lecture to young reporters around the world on the duty of care they need to take with facts and teach how to check and cross check. Until now I have never made a big mistake, but this is a painful reminder that we all put our pants on one leg at a time. The measure of character, I say in my posts and lectures, is whether when an error is found you forthrightly and promptly correct.
So I hope readers will trust that while I made a whopper of a mistake, it has been corrected forthrightly and promptly.