The Associated Press took down a false story that jumped the gun in order to accuse Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe of lying to federal investigators. Before the AP killed the story, however, the right-wing media had already amplified the false report.
In an October 9 article, AP political writer Bob Lewis reported that McAuliffe had allegedly "lied to a federal official investigating a Rhode Island estate planner now imprisoned for receiving death benefits on annuities secured on terminally ill people without their knowledge." The AP's report was based on court documents alleging that an individual identified only as "T.M." had lied to a postal inspector about participating in a death benefit fraud:
The McAuliffe campaign responded after the AP published its report, denying that the "T.M." identified in the court documents was McAuliffe and pointing out that "he was not interviewed by law enforcement on April 20, 2010; rather, he was in Richmond for a day of meetings." The campaign further stated that McAuliffe was a "passive investor" and "he was never involved in the referral of any annuitants to Mr. [Joseph] Caramadre, ever."
Shortly after posting the report, the AP withdrew it. Lewis also issued a retraction, tweeting, "The error was mine and I take responsibility for it." But before the story was withdrawn, it was picked up by several media outlets and amplified by right-wing blog Hot Air, which stated:
Normally in an October surprise like this, one would suspect dirty tricks by the opposing campaign. That doesn't appear to be the case here, though. This isn't an old report uncovered in oppo research, but a new filing in a federal court. McAuliffe's name only got linked to the Caramadre case today. Ken Cuccinelli is the current AG of Virginia, but there isn't any apparent connection between the state AG's office and a federal investigation in Rhode Island, at least not at the moment.
So at least for the moment, this looks like a very big and unspinnable problem for Team McAuliffe, and not just in the campaign. Lying to federal investigators is obstruction of justice, which is a very significant felony -- as Scooter Libby can attest. McAuliffe is presumed innocent until proven guilty, but that's only in the legal sense, not the political sense.
Hot Air also updated its blog after the AP story was withdrawn.
UPDATE: On October 10, The Associated Press issued the following statement:
The initial alert moved on AP's Virginia state wire at9:45 p.m. The story was withdrawn one hour and 38 minutes later. That was an hour and 38 minutes too long. As our retraction said, "The indictment did not identify McAuliffe as the 'T.M.' who allegedly lied to investigators."
UPDATE 2: According to the Huffington Post, the Associated Press has fired both Bob Lewis and editor Dena Potter and is expected to reprimand another unnamed editor:
The Associated Press has fired a reporter and editor over an erroneous Oct. 9 report that Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe lied to an investigator in a federal fraud case, according to sources familiar with the matter.
The AP retracted the article in question roughly an hour and a half after publication, and last week, suspended its author, veteran political reporter Bob Lewis.
According to sources, Lewis has since been fired. He could not be reached for comment.
The AP has also fired Dena Potter, a Richmond-based news editor for Virginia and West Virginia.
When reached by phone, Potter instructed this reporter to call Paul Colford, the AP's Director of Media Relations. Colford declined to comment on personnel matters.
Another editor is expected to be reprimanded over the incident, according to sources.