In early September, Bloomberg Law published a hit piece on a recent Department of Labor (DOL) hire accusing him of posting anti-Semitic messages on Facebook.
From the moment the article was published, it was clear Bloomberg Law reporter Ben Penn badly misinterpreted DOL official Leif Olson’s obvious sarcasm and then used that misinterpretation to try and get Olson fired. Olson resigned before the article was published. Penn had reached out to his superiors asking them how they felt about his allegedly anti-Semitic comments.
After reading Olson’s comments, it was clear to just about everyone but Penn and his editors that Olson was being sarcastic in his comments.
Outrage over the piece ensued, as noted by The Daily Wire’s Josh Hammer, as even prominent Leftists on Twitter criticized the article for taking Olson’s comments out of context.
Bloomberg Law refused to retract the article but did edit the article by adding bullet points to the top of the story. As The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple pointed out, however, those points were still misleading. One, for example, mentioned a “reference that Jewish media ‘protects their own’” would give readers the wrong impression about Olson’s remarks.
On Friday, Bloomberg Law finally retracted the article and appended an apology to Olson and their readers in its place:
Bloomberg Law has retracted this article, published on Sept. 3. In reporting on a series of social media posts from Department of Labor official Leif Olson, we failed to meet our editorial standards for fairness and accuracy. We regret that lapse and apologize to our readers and to Mr. Olson.
Editor-in-Chief Cesca Antonelli wrote a memo to staff that said the outlet had addressed the issues raised by the article with the staff involved.
“We received several complaints about our story. We took the complaints seriously and have spent the last few weeks reviewing our coverage and our editorial processes. We addressed these issues with all staff involved,” she wrote. “The last of our review meetings was conducted yesterday afternoon.”
The day before the outlet retracted the story, attorney Ted Frank revealed the results of a Freedom of Information Act request that revealed the misleading email Penn sent to DOL officials that framed Olson’s messages as anti-Semitic.
🔥 🔥 🔥@blaw refused to answer my questions about their abusive journalism fail on the Leif Olson story, so we FOIA’ed Penn’s emails to DOL to see how it happened. As you can see, this was a total hit job, @benjaminPenn truncated & mischaracterized the Facebook posts. pic.twitter.com/CzTsMKWUBN
— tedfrank (@tedfrank) October 3, 2019
Bloomberg Law insisted the timing was coincidental.
Wemple noted that Penn did speak to Olson, who told him flatly that the posts were sarcastic. “It was sarcastic criticism of the alt-right’s conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic positions,” Olson told Penn.
Wemple reported that Olson told Penn this in an interview three days before the article was published, “meaning that Bloomberg Law had a few days before the Sept. 3 publication date to review the Facebook material for satire.”
Still, the outlet published the piece. Olson was reinstated after Penn’s piece received backlash. The DOL official had relocated his family from Texas to the Washington, D.C. area for the job.
Wemple reached out to Olson with several questions:
Has he sent any lawyer letters to Bloomberg Law? “No,” he responded.
Was he pondering legal action? “No comment.”
Had he discussed the situation with a lawyer? “No comment.”
How does he feel Bloomberg Law handled the situation? “No comment.”