Independent Journalism Review, commonly referred to as IJR, published on Thursday an article about former President Obama’s visit to Hawaii. The article noted that the trip came shortly before a Hawaii judge struck down President Donald Trump’s revised immigration ban. The article seemed to imply that there was a connection between the two events, but made a point of saying, “This is not to allege the former president met with Judge Derrick Watson, but merely to point out the timing and the opportunity was there ahead of a controversial court ruling.” The article, however, went on to point out several connections between Obama and Watson.
The article was criticized for being sensational and speculative bordering on conspiracy theory. Indeed, the article was picked up by conspiracy websites like InfoWars.
The article was later amended with an editor’s note stating, “This story has been updated to remove unnecessary speculation about the timing of the visit. We apologize for any undue conclusions that might have been drawn from the report.” However, the article was later retracted with a statement, “IJR published an article that does not meet our editorial standards or represent IJR’s vision or values. We have retracted the story, and we deeply regret the error.”
The article now only has that note, but the original is still archived.
Business Insider’s Oliver Darcy posted on Twitter an email that author Kyle Becker sent internally apologizing for the article, “I should have been more responsible, and will exert utmost efforts to adhere to the highest journalistic standards I can, while taking into account audience readership pressures.”
“It was unwarranted to fuel baseless speculation, and there are no excuses.”
Many took note of Becker’s qualifier that he would still weigh “audience readership pressures” when trying to uphold “the highest journalistic standards I can.” Becker serves as Director of Viral Media for IJR.
In response to Becker’s article, congressional reporter Joe Perticone left the website, also broken by Darcy. Perticone changed his bio to drop reference to IJR and the usually active tweeter has not tweeted in several hours. The source told Darcy that Perticone left “over many things, but this seems to have been the camel’s straw.”
The controversy comes as IJR faces renewed attention. IJR’s White House correspondent Erin McPike was the sole member of the media on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s plane trip to Asia after the Department said there would not be room for media. That McPike was picked, not even being a State Department reporter, caused outrage among the diplomatic corps. IJR has had some success, including breaking the story of Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court and sponsoring a Republican primary debate with ABC News. However, the site is also known for a close relationship with Republicans, a reliance on clickbait, and hiring Benny Johnson who had been fired from BuzzFeed for plagiarism. IJR is not yet treated with the same respect as other digital outlets like Business Insider or BuzzFeed News, a sentiment reflected when few news organizations acknowledged IJR breaking the Gorsuch news.