This is about as bizarre a media story as you can find. On Dec. 4, a small digital news outlet called the Mid Hudson News reported that a man had been fatally shot in Newburgh, New York. It turned out to be fake news, but not before it was picked up by the aggregation site Newsbreak — which, in turn, published a commentary written by artificial intelligence falsely blaming the incorrect story on the rise of social media.

The owner of the Mid Hudson News, a former New York state senator, Mike Martucci, and the founder and editor, Hank Gross, blame it all on the city of Newburgh, citing its policy of funneling all media comment through a spokesman who they claim doesn’t get back to them in a timely manner.

The story is laid out in a Dec. 21 article in the Times Union of Albany, written by reporters Lana Bellamy and Phillip Pantuso.

Incredibly, the Mid Hudson News’ story, headlined “Man says his cousin is shot dead,” is still online. An editor’s note appears at the bottom: “Our earlier story about an alleged incident in Newburgh was incorrectly reported as there was no incident involving a shooting of any kind in the City of Newburgh.” As you can see, the report is based on the word of someone named Major Bradley, who heard from relatives the next day that Bolder had been fatally shot. In other words, not only did the News publish a one-source story, but that source had no first-hand knowledge about the murder. Then again, there was no murder.

Gross told the Times Union that there was, in fact, a second source who he did not cite in his report, and that he chose to go ahead and publish after city spokesman Mike Neppl failed to respond in a timely manner. “You’re lucky if you get a response, and if you do, more often than not it’s not timely,” Gross was quoted as saying. “How long do you wait?”

Now, there’s not one word I can offer in defense of the Mid Hudson News. But according to the Times Union, Neppl and the city of Newburgh really do have some issues when it comes to dealing with the press; among other things, city officials have clashed with a television reporter over their apparent refusal to provide crime data.

And despite Neppl’s claim that the city’s policy of funneling all media responses through one spokesperson is common, the Times Union reported that “few if any municipalities in the Times Union’s coverage area, large or small, have a similar requirement for all non-elected officials.”

The whole tale is just astonishing.

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