The Mayor of Baltimore spoof: A digest of media apologies

This is an edited version of the post that originally appeared on Matt Wardman’s site The Wardman Wire.

In my previous piece I noted that Labour List had made a neat three-point-turn after reporting that Alex Hilton’s spoof press release for the Mayor of Baltimore was not a real statement from the real Mayor Sheila Dixon.

The spoof was picked up by a range of newspapers and online news outlets and reported, before the hoax behind the story was known.

The manner of an admission of a mistake can tell us about the culture and attitude of the organisation making the retraction. This article is a straight digest of retractions on this story, without much commentary from me here – each title’s name links to its own retraction/apology regarding the story:

Baltimore Sun:

The Baltimore Sun had more excuse than anybody else for getting it wrong, since they were informed about the new ‘Mayoral’ Twitter page by a Baltimore official.

“Editor’s note: The website and Twitter accounts referenced by this post were not written by Mayor Sheila Dixon or her staff. Instead, they were produced by a British prankster. A fuller explanation is available here. The Sun regrets the error.”


“I got duped.

“Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon does not have a Twitter page and did not respond to Britain’s Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling’s rebuke of the city by referencing The Wire. It was a hoax, I learned this morning, and City Hall is trying to figure how a fake internet page with the mayor’s seal was born.”

Baltimore City Paper:

“Update: We got punked. See comments section below.”


“The story below was written on the basis of statements supposedly made by the Mayor of Baltimore which have since been proved to be false. They were fabricated on this website ( We fell for the hoax.”

(The Indy did a further piece which attempted to set up Hilton as the new Damian McBride.)


The following correction was printed in the Guardian’s Corrections and clarifications column, Saturday 29 August 2009:

“In the story below we numbered among the duped in quoting comments supposedly by the Mayor of Baltimore, but actually by a hoaxer, chastising Chris Grayling, the shadow home secretary, for comparing aspects of British life to the underside of Baltimore as portrayed in the TV crime show The Wire.”


“UPDATE: Oh, the embarrassment! Guido reports that this whole quote (and the Mayor of Baltimore website behind it) was an elaborate hoax, by Alex Hilton of Recess Monkey, designed to catch out ‘churnalists’. I’ll certainly think twice now before flagging something up from another blog – so congrats, Alex.”

Liberal Conspiracy:

First statement from the site:

“Update: It’s a fake. But this accompanying video is pretty funny though.

(Matt Wardman: this video has now been removed from Youtube)

“And Chris Grayling is still wrong.

“Another update, in response to Iain Dale

“There never was a press release to the story.

“I heard about it on Twitter and passed it along to post up on the site.

“The sanctimonious attitude of Dale and Fawkes is funny – I suppose they’ve never linked to a website with a comment.

In a second statement:

Separate piece. Liberal Conspiracy has a point here – guess which blog the Spectator did its ‘research’ on?

“Yeah, we fell for the spoof on the Mayor of Baltimore, as did many others including The Spectator, the Guardian and Baltimore Sun – people who are paid to do more research, you know? And I updated the page as soon as I heard about it, as should be the practice.”

The BBC:

The BBC included the site in their daily quiz. It was changed without immediate acknowledgment. I can’t link to it as there is no acknowledgment, however Plato had a screen shot:


To be fair, a daily quiz is hardly in the same league as a news article.

Matt Wardman edits the non-partisan Wardman Wire group blog which covers politics, media and technology. He is @mattwardman on Twitter, and mattwardman [at] gmail [dot] com on email.

Leave a Reply