A British tabloid was sanctioned last week for publishing a story that not only said Amanda Knox's appeal was rejected, but included made up quotes from prosecutors and a fictional description of Knox's reaction to the ruling.
Knox's appeal was granted on Oct. 3rd, but the Daily Mail published a pre-written piece that reported just the opposite. The piece was online for only a few minutes, but it was long enough to draw criticism from other British media organizations.
It's not unusual for journalists to write two or more draft versions ahead of an expected major announcement, filling in the facts later. That way, no matter which way the story goes, a story can be posted quickly.
But the Daily Mail took it even further -- the paper's staff made up quotes ahead of time and fictionalized reactions from key players in the courtroom.
The story included a description of Knox's reaction and even quotes from prosecutors -- quotes that were completely fabricated.
"Guilty: Amanda Knox looks stunned as appeal against murder conviction is rejected," the headline read.
Britain's Press Complaints Commission has censured the tabloid, and the Daily Mail posted the commission's findings on its website and reports it is changing its procedures for what it calls "set and hold" stories.
The Commission's ruling includes scathing criticism of the Daily Mail's methods: "In addition to the overarching complaint that the article had reported the wrong verdict, the complainants also drew the commissions attention to: the inclusion of quotes attributed to prosecutors, apparently reacting to the guilty verdict ('justice has been done' although 'it was sad two young people would be spending time in jail')."
According to The Guardian, the Daily Mail's story included this fictional account of Knox's reaction to the announcement by Judge Claudio Pratillo Hellman that the court denied her appeal for freedom: "As Knox realised (sic) the enormity of what judge Hellman was saying she sank into her chair sobbing uncontrollably while her family and friends hugged each other in tears." The Daily Mail's report also said Knox was taken back to prison and would be "put on a suicide watch."
A writer for the Guardian noted that the Daily Mail was not alone in reporting the Knox news incorrectly. "The Sun and Sky News did it too and yes - hands up here - so did The Guardian in its live blog. It would appear that a false translation of the judge's summing up caused the problem, leading to papers jumping the gun," wrote Guardian blogger Roy Greenslade.