Stephen Harper’s photo-op ATV ride through sand dunes near Whitehorse on Monday was to the chagrin of many, including local environmental activists and opposition MPs, but it is The Hill Times news reporter Tim Naumetz who has drawn the most heat in the wake of the story after it was discovered that he quoted NDP MP Megan Leslie as saying things that she never said.

Stephen Harper’s photo-op ATV ride through sand dunes near Whitehorse on Monday was to the chagrin of many, including local environmental activists and opposition MPs, but The Hill Times news reporter Tim Naumetz also drew heat in the wake of the story after it was discovered that he quoted NDP MP Megan Leslie as saying things that she never said.

It was not intentional, Naumetz told J-Source, but a huge mistake made in a deadline rush.

The Hill Times misattributed quotes from Green Party leader Elizabeth May to Leslie on three separate occasions* in the original version of the story. The weekly politics newspaper, which posts online daily, has since removed the original story and posted a correction and updated version, with additional quotes from Leslie, all properly attributed.

The misattribution was realized when Leslie, the NDP’s environmental critic, tweeted:

Soon after, May acknowledged the quotes were hers and indeed, not Leslie’s.

The Hill Times responded, acknowledging the mistake and apologizing publicly.

So how did this happen?

“It was just a huge error from haste,” Naumetz said in an interview with J-Source.

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Naumetz is not a rookie reporter – he has worked for The Hill Times since 2009, and freelanced for publications such as CanWest, Postmedia, Canadian Press and Sun Media newspapers prior to that. The misattribution of May’s quotes to Leslie were completely unintentional and simply a "huge mistake,” he said.

The Hill Times’ online daily deadline is 4 p.m., Naumetz said, though he normally files between 4:30 and 5 due to the difficulty of getting people during the day. He began writing this story at 4:30 and he made an error when copying and pasting from his interview transcriptions. Naumetz explained that he normally uses capital letters to identify his interview subjects in his transcription, and in haste, missed May’s name in his Word document. “I was at the right quote and I scrolled up and I saw Megan’s name,” he said.

It wasn’t until this morning, when deputy editor Bea Vongdouangchanh called him, that he realized what he'd done.

Though none of the quotes in the original story belonged to Leslie, Naumetz had actually interviewed her for the story. After Leslie raised the misattribution issue, Naumetz and his editors reached out to the NDP MP to ensure she would still be willing to be included in the corrected story. Leslie agreed, which Naumetz was glad about because her quotes were able to add to the revised story.

“You know, it’s really stupid because as I was talking to her I was thinking those are good and interesting,” Naumetz said, lamenting the “stupid lapse” he had while copying-and-pasting his transcription.

Naumetz said he was upset because he feels the misattribution has distracted from the main point of the story, which looked at how the government handles its photo ops and its messaging.

“That’s why I’m kind of disappointed, really,” Naumetz said. “For a brief time she [Leslie] was misquoted, and that’s regretful, but my mistake led to the story probably losing a bit of authenticity.”

At the time of publication, Leslie had not responded to a J-Source request for comment.

“Anyone in journalism is bound to make errors at times, but this one it was pretty bad,” Naumetz said with a sigh. “But I must say, not intentional.”

 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that quotes had been misattributed to Leslie on five separate occasions when in fact, it was three quotes, with two of them being continuous quotes that were split, with attribution in the middle. This mistake occurred due to my misunderstanding of the correction posted on The Hill Times' story. In this correction, we also clarified a statement that previously said Naumetz "drew the most heat" in the wake of the story. We regret the mistake.