If you've been visiting the Orange County Register's home page recently—and who would ever want to do THAT?—you would've noticed that one of the recent headlines on its "Most Popular" widget was "100 Arrested in Gang, Mexican Mafia Crackdown." Who the hell knows what the Reg's troglodytic readership is into nowadays—actually, we do know: anything involving crime and Mexicans—but that story isn't recent: it was from 2011, when the much-missed Salvador Hernandez (currently at Buzzfeed News) wrote about a huge crackdown on Mexican Mafia members associated with former OC godfather Peter "Sana" Ojeda.
When I saw the headline, I knew it was an old story because Ojeda's trial on those indictments wrapped up last year. It was a big case in Orange County that garnered some national attention, and happened just six years ago. But, in a telling indicator of our fake-news times and the hollowing-out of Southern California media, there is no apparent institutional knowledge left in Southern California news organizations, because three prominent outlets got punked and reported the Reg's story yesterday as current, breaking news.
I first realized this when I heard the morning anchor on KFI-AM 640 at the 11:30 a.m. news break mention Ojeda and the indictments. Once I got to the office, I found what I assumed to be where they got the story from: A CBS Los Angeles web piece. They've pulled their story, but you can see the original here, in a cached version. And you can see in this excerpt that whoever's over there not only is a lazy, gullible reporter, but a blatant plagiarist:
Nearly 100 alleged gang members have been indicted in what law enforcement officials are calling a devastating blow to local gangs and leaders of the notorious Mexican Mafia, it was reported Wednesday.
Among those named in one of several indictments unsealed Wednesday was Peter Ojeda, a Santa Ana native indicted in 2005 and currently in federal prison, the Orange County register reported.
Despite his incarceration, Ojeda is accused of continuing to hold a grip in Orange County’s Latino street gangs, ordering punishment on local gangs that refused to follow his commands and giving the “green light” on rivals who tried to take his place as the leader of the Mexican Mafia in Orange County, according to the newspaper.
Now, compare CBS Los Angeles' summary to Hernandez's original reporting:
Nearly 100 alleged gang members have been indicted in what law enforcement officials are calling a devastating blow on local gangs and leaders of the notorious Mexican Mafia.
Among those named in one of several indictments unsealed Wednesday was Peter Ojeda, a Santa Ana native indicted in 2005 and currently in federal prison. Despite his incarceration, Ojeda is accused of continuing to hold a grip in Orange County’s Latino street gangs, ordering punishment on local gangs that refused to follow his commands and giving the “green light” on rivals who tried to take his place as the leader of the Mexican Mafia in Orange County.
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But sources tell the Weekly that the original reason KFI and CBS (and other media outlets that the Weekly couldn't confirm) reported 2011 news as new news is because they based their pieces on something published yesterday morning by City News Service (CNS), an agency that serves as a Southern California Associated Press. We don't subscribe to CNS, so don't know how their dispatch read. But we did reach out to them for comment and got the following statement from CNS city editor Marty Sauerzopf:
An internal review has been launched, and we will take appropriate action once we have determined why this occurred. For 89 years, accuracy has been our most important concern in adhering to professional standards of journalism. As with any reputable news organization, we corrected the error as soon as it was discovered. The investigation will be thorough and effective.
Fascinating...in the meanwhile, a warning to all news orgs in this annus horribilis of layoffs, buyouts, pivots to videos, mass sacking of editors, ending of print editions, and general disrespect to overworked news staff that get no support from readers and corporate owners alike: Don't jettison your institutional knowledge so quickly—it just might save you from an embarrassing mistake and the Media Wars to Come.