David Cay Johnston is having a rough day at work. The veteran business reporter (he covered tax policy for The New York Times until he took a buy-out in 2008, and won a Pulitzer in 2001 for documenting corporate tax loopholes there) filed his very first column as a Reuters columnist today about Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. making money on income taxes. It turned out to be incorrect. Not just an embarrassing typo or a little bit off, but totally, absolutely wrong. A full correction is coming soon, and it will detail how, exactly, Johnston misread a News Corp. financial statement but for now there's this posting on Reuters' Mediafile blog: "Please be advised that the David Cay Johnston column published on Tuesday stating that Rupert Murdoch’s U.S.-based News Corp. made money on income taxes is wrong and has been withdrawn." Which to any journalist reads as one big ouch.
A new column will go over the details of Johnston's error, but the brief version is this: Because of a change News Corp. made in its annual reports during the seven year period Johnston reported on, his calculations on Rupert Murdoch's tax bills showed a negative number where there should have been a positive one. "This is particularly painful," Johnston told The Atlantic Wire via telephone. "I have been at this for 45 years. I have never, until now, had to do anything like this. I am assiduous about correcting the record."