The rehabilitation of Paul Sheehan has begun.
Over the weekend, The Monthly and The Guardian appended a “correction” and “editor’s note”, respectively, to the bottom of Richard Cooke’s extraordinary 4000-word takedown of Sheehan’s career. The note relates to Cooke’s coverage of an effusive 2003 piece Sheehan wrote on the”dangerous, double-edged allures of Krispy Kreme”. The note states:
“Two paragraphs of this story have been altered to reflect that David Coe was not a Krispy Kreme executive at the time Sheehan wrote about the company, as suggested in the original draft. The paragraphs also now make clear that Sheehan only became a shareholder after his column was published.”
Given Krispy Kreme is a private company, Cooke’s piece had originally left open the possibility that Sheehan was a shareholder at the time he had written an ode to the company’s doughnuts. The rewording says he “went on” to become a shareholder after the piece’s publication.
The piece, a lengthy attack on Fairfax’s editorial processes and Sheehan’s journalism, was prompted by the senior writer’s now-retracted front-page piece on the alleged gang rape of a nurse by Arabic men. Sheehan retracted the story, and later the writer was indefinitely stood down by Sydney Morning Herald editor-in-chief Darren Goodsir, after the editor examined the circumstances around the piece’s publication and concluded Sheehan had committed “unacceptable breaches of fundamental journalistic practice”.
While many journalists recounted other highlights of Sheehan’s career, such as his piece on Magic Water, which was heavily disputed in a piece by one of Fairfax’s own journalists, Cooke’s piece went much further, alleging a pattern of sloppy work and insufficient editorial oversight.
The correction about Krispy Kreme is only one of several that Fairfax demanded of the publishers more than a week ago. Crikey doesn’t know what corrections Fairfax has asked for, and accounts of how serious they are vary. On Twitter, it’s been floated that another of the incidents related in the piece — about Sheehan having not attended a trade conference he reported on in favour of a private romantic tryst — was another bone of contention, though Cooke responded that this wasn’t in the list of issues raised by Fairfax.
Cooke has also said the reason the piece was published by both The Guardian and The Monthly was to maximise fact-checking resources.