Assertion: On 2 December 2013, online news portal Huffington Post carried a story on the world’s richest leaders/politicians, which listed the names of the most wealthy leaders in the world. Indian National Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s name figured at #12 in this list.
The Huffington Post story pegged her net worth at US $2 billion. It published her picture–like it did of others on the list–with the following text:
Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi smiles as she prepares to deliver a speech during aceremony celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of former Congress Party president and freedom fighter Motilal Nehru in New Delhi on September 25, 2012.
Huffington Post also claimed that “For comparison, each country’s GDP per capita is juxtaposed with a leader’s personal net worth, just to show how different life is for the haves and have-nots,” and that “Unsurprisingly, many of their countries’ citizens lead much, much humbler lives.”
This story went viral on the Internet and was shared by Firstpost among other news outlets in India. The weekly magazine India Today did a nearly-instant rebuttal of Huffington Post’s claim about Sonia Gandhi’s net worth and found that it had not disclosed the methodology that led to placing Sonia at the 12th place.
Be that as it may, Huffington Post eventually took down her name from its list and issued the following regret note from the editor:
Sonia Gandhi and the former emir of Qatar Hamid bin Khalifa al-Thani have been removed from this list. Gandhi was originally included based on a listing on a third party site which was subsequently called into question. Our editors have been unable to verify the amount, removed the link, and regret any confusion. [Emphasis added]
The significant point here is not the regret note but the source that Huffpost claims it relied on to compute Sonia Gandhi’s personal wealth. That source, linked from the original Huffpost piece, is a website named Celebrity Networth. Interestingly, this is what the Celebrity Networth entry on Sonia Gandhi says:
Sonia’s wealth is largely derived from her late husband and his family. She personally states her wealth to be between $200,000 and $500,000, but several sources including OpenSecrets.org, HuffingtonPost and Business Insider have estimated that Sonia’s actual wealth could be as low as $2 billion and might be as high as $19 billion.
To spell out what has happened here: Huffington Post has linked to a Celebrity Networth piece as its source and the same Celebrity Networth piece quotes Huffington Post as its source! What is also interesting is that the Celebrity Networth piece does not have a dateline nor links or documents or facts to state how it arrived at the figure.
Given all this, the regret note issued by Huffington Post sounds insincere and seems to be a beleaguered reaction to people catching its bluff.
It’s worth reexamining the wording of the Huffpost regret note:
Gandhi was originally included based on a listing on a third party site which was subsequently called into question.
Two things stand out in this:
1. That the researchers/editors who visited the third party site–which Huffpost had itself linked in its original version–did a shoddy job of fact-checking.
2. That the regret note smacks of insincerity because the “third party site which was called into question” quotes Huffington Post to buttress its own claim! Are we to believe that the Huffpost researchers didn’t read the name of their own paper before linking it as a source?
It is clear from the aforementioned facts that Huffington Post has violated the most basic norm of journalism: fact-checking. If that was not enough, its apology/regret too reflects this same lackadaisical approach towards journalism. It is thus quite clear that Huffington Post has lost credibility.
IndiaFacts Fact Meter verdict: True.
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