Washington Post ‘Embarrassed’ Over Error-Riddled Story Needing 15 Corrections

August 8, 2019 Updated: August 8, 2019

The Washington Post recently published an error-riddled article that has required 15 corrections so far.

The article details black families who are trying to retain their farmland.

“We are embarrassed by the widespread errors in this freelance article. We have published a detailed correction of each error and updated the story based on re-reporting by Post staff,” executive editor Marty Baron said in a statement sent to the Washingtonian about the corrections, which ran for 579 words.

The corrections are labeled by bullet point as follows.

• The first name of Emanuel Freeman Sr. was misspelled.

• Contrary to what was reported in the initial article, Freeman Sr.’s grandson, Johnny, did not refuse to move off a Halifax, Va., sidewalk for a white woman; he was talking to her, which drew the ire of some white locals, including the Ku Klux Klan. When a crowd gathered at the Freeman home where Johnny fled, gunfire was exchanged, and one family member’s home was set ablaze.

• The 2017 U.S. Agricultural Census compared farmland owned and operated, not simply owned, by white and black farmers.

• The number of children Freeman had with his second wife, Rebecca, was eight, not 10.

• Ownership of Freeman’s property was not transferred to heirs when Rebecca died. In fact, he used a trust before he died to divide his property among his heirs.

• The partition sale of the Freeman estate was in 2016, not 2018, and it included 360 acres of the original 1,000, not 30 acres of the original.

• The story omitted key details that affect understanding of ownership of the land. Melinda J.G. Hyman says “Jr.” and “Sr.” were left off the names of father and son on documents, and the land was mistakenly combined under Rebecca’s name, meaning some descendants did not receive proper ownership. After requesting a summary of the property, Hyman says, she found her great-aunt, Pinkie Freeman Logan, was the rightful heir to hundreds of acres, but they were not properly transferred to her. In 2016, Hyman says, 360 acres of the original 1,000 were auctioned off after a lengthy court battle, a decision she says she and some other family members dispute.

• The article omitted Hyman’s statement that actions by law firm Bagwell & Bagwell constitute apparent conflicts of interest and omitted firm owner George H. Bagwell’s response denying that allegation.

• A description by agricultural lawyer Jillian Hishaw of laws governing who inherits property when a landowner dies was a reference to the laws in most states, not more than 20 states. She was also generally describing these laws, not referring to Virginia law.

• A study the article said compared the prevalence of estate planning by older white and older black Americans was published in the Journal of Palliative Medicine, not the National Library of Medicine, and was about possession of advance health directives, not estate planning.

• Tashi Terry said, “Welcome to Belle Terry Lane,” not “Welcome to Belle Terry Farm.” The property is named Terry Farm.

• Aubrey Terry did not buy 170 acres with his siblings in 1963; his parents bought the 150-acre property in 1961.

• The eldest Terry brother died in 2011, not 2015.

• The article omitted Tashi Terry’s account of some incidents that led to a lawsuit seeking a partition sale of her family’s farm and her allegations against Bagwell & Bagwell, which the firm denies.

• A law proposed to protect heirs from losing land in partition sales is called the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act, not the Partition of Heirs Property Act. “Tenants in common” are not solely defined as those living on a property; they are all those who own a share in the property. The act would not require heirs living on a property to come to an agreement before it can be sold, but would instead provide several other protections.

Wilson hasn’t commented on the correction. On July 23, she thanked people who spoke to her for the story and editor Joe Yonan for editing the piece. In reply, Yonan wrote: “Thanks for the great idea and work!”

The Washingtonian said that the Post declined to explain how the article came about and how many staffers spent how much time working on “re-reporting” the story and writing the massive correction.

Some of the questions that could be asked, the outlet said, included: “Did Wilson pitch the story to the Post or did the paper assign it to her? How many staffers contributed to reporting the correction, and how much of their time did it take up? What’s the Post’s fact-checking process for freelancers like? Why does the print version of the correction note that Wilson is a freelance writer but the online version doesn’t? How and when did the Post learn that the story had so many problems? Who decided the correction needed to run on the front page of the Food section? Are there any legal dimensions to the correction? Would the Post work with Wilson again?”

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber
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