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This piece [see comments; actually a press release] from Yahoo News has a lede that in some journalistic circles would be considered most irresponsible in its syntax:
BOSTON, Sept. 18 /PRNewswire/ — Pulitzer-prize winner Sylvia Nasar (“A Beautiful Mind”) defamed world renowned Harvard mathematics professor Dr. Shing-Tung Yau, in an article about a noteworthy mathematical proof in The New Yorker magazine entitled “Manifold Destiny” (August 28, 2006), according to a letter written by Dr. Yau’s attorney, Howard M. Cooper of Todd & Weld LLP of Boston. In the letter, Dr. Yau has demanded that The New Yorker and Nasar make a prominent correction of the errors in the article, and apologize for an insulting illustration that accompanied it.
Let’s not put the declarative cart before the reportorial horse, shall we? And, given recent events, may we decide for ourselves if an illustration is insulting? In any case, the piece concludes,
The allegations made in the letter will be discussed in detail in a webcast open to all interested parties scheduled for Noon EDT, Wednesday, September 20, 2006. Log in information will be posted on www.doctoryau.com. The letter sent to The New Yorker is available at his website.
Update: Via Romanesko, an actual journalistic account of the matter (or antimatter) in the Boston Herald, with Remnick’s comment:
David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, said yesterday he had only recently received Cooper’s letter, but the magazine “painstakingly checked the facts” in the Aug. 28 article “as we do with all pieces in The New Yorker.” “I would have assumed that Professor Yau and his attorney would have waited for a full response to their letter before forwarding it to the press,” Remnick said.
Further update: The Boston Herald’s Jesse Noyes follows up with a story headed “New Yorker: Math Prof’s Charges Don’t Add Up.” An excerpt:
Cooper’s letter said that the article’s authors, Pulitzer Prize-winner Sylvia Nasar and David Gruber, knowingly defamed Yau and never gave him a chance to respond to charges in the story. But The New Yorker said the article was the result of four months of reporting and hours of meticulous fact-checking. The authors spent over 20 hours interviewing Yau, conducted approximately 100 other interviews with people in Yau’s field and even traveled to China to research the story.
Related on Emdashes:
Math Is Hard


The lede’s somewhat less irresponsible considering that this isn’t journalism, it’s a press release.

Good point, Anon, and good eye, too. (Love your work!) I don’t know that press releases should be released on the wire at all. What do you think?

The PRNewswire has a rather prominent place in the financial world. Most items concern things like management shuffles and new marketing campaigns and earnings reports that most news organizations don’t bother covering. This, of course, is different, but And Yahoo does a decent job of marking that this is a press release. So I suppose it doesn’t bother me too much.

Fair enough. I didn’t spot it myself, but it was late. I wonder if the average reader might mistake it for a news story? Since press releases are written to be easily confused with, or converted into, news stories, there is potential for mixups. I’m not the first person to observe this, of course.

Hi Emily

I think you raise an interesting point about how you don’t think press releases should be released on the wire.

I agree with Anon on the importance of press releases in the financial world especially since the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and Regulation Fair Disclosure. Press releases that are released on the wire have become instrumental in disseminating material information in a timely fashion in order to level the playing field among investors.

Moreover I think that press releases should be released on the wire because it gives a release more chance of being picked up by the press and being turned into a story.

For example you picked up The New Yorker and Yau story in your blog. If it wasn’t on the wire a lot of people and fellow bloggers like yourself would have probably not heard about it. I know that there is another blog called Regret the Error that picked up this story too citing the press release that it probably got from the wire.

With the internet and blogs, people like Prof. Yau have a chance to at least express their side of the story. I don’t know who is right or wrong in that article. But can you imagine being in Prof. Yau’s shoes. I don’t know what I would do if a great magazine like The New Yorker published something like that about me. The article is very biased against him. (Sorry Emily I know that you are a big fan of the magazine) Which is why I’m surprised that with all the research and fact checking, it was still so one-sided. I mean in the interviews with Prof Yau, didn’t he say something about the allegations made against him and if so why wasn’t it printed.

The letter on www.doctoryau.com which you listed on your blog really gave another side to the story. And I think that it is always wise to get both sides of the story.

I’d point that that the web site www.doctoryau.com and related press releases were created by a public relations firm hired by Dr. Yau and his lawyer - I would not jump to the conclusion that this information is unbiased (witness what was sent out on PRNewswire). While the New Yorker article was certainly not very flattering for Dr. Yau, that hardly means that it was therefore biased against him. Many of Dr. Yau dubious actions highlighted in the New Yorker article are not in dispute per se but rather the authors’ interpretation of what such actions implied is being denied by Dr. Yau.

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