The Politico's Big Edwards 'Oops'

By: Harry Jaffe

The Politico's website trumpeted its scoop, which turned out to be false.

Live by the Internet; die by the Internet.

That could be The Politico's lesson of the day. The two-month-old political news venture—which has pegged its success on lightning fast, behind-the-scenes, reportage—published a major blooper this morning.

Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards put out word yesterday that he would make an important announcement this morning. It would concern his wife, Elizabeth, who had been battling breast cancer.

At 11:06 this morning Politico reporter and blogger Ben Smith posted this item:

"John Edwards is suspending his campaign for President, and may drop out completely, because his wife has suffered a recurrence of the cancer that sickened her in 2004, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, an Edwards friend told The Politico."

Cable news channels went with the scoop, trusting The Politico's reporting and trumpeted it in the minutes leading up to the noon news conference. But something was wrong: Edwards aides hit back, saying the story was wrong. Finally shortly after noon the truth came out: At a press conference with his wife in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Edwards said his wife's cancer had recurred and added: "The campaign goes on. The campaign goes on strongly.

At 12:34, Smith blogged the obvious:

"My source, and I, were wrong," he wrote.

He continued: "The source, whose anonymity I agreed to respect, spoke of the kind of grim prognosis Elizabeth Edwards herself just described hearing before a second round of tests came back. I trusted the source, somebody I've known for several years, and who has always been reliable. And with less than an hour before Edwards was to announce, I unwisely wrote the item without getting a second source."

Smith concluded: "My apologies to our readers for passing on bad information."