Tribune, Google trade blame over erroneous United story

CHICAGO: For the week after a story about United Airlines' 2002 bankruptcy filing was mistakenly identified as a current report, the Tribune Co. and Google traded blame over which was at fault, while the airline demanded a retraction.

CHICAGO: In the week after a story about United Airlines' 2002 bankruptcy filing was mistakenly identified as a current report, the Tribune Co. and Google traded blame over which was at fault, while the airline demanded a retraction.

Tribune, which owns the South Florida Sun-Sentinel Web site where the Google News aggregator found the nearly 6-year-old story, blamed Google in a September 10 statement for using an automated search agent that cannot differentiate between archived and current stories. The media company disclosed in various statements released since September 7 that it identified problems with the “Googlebot” months ago and asked Google to cease using it to search newspaper Web sites.

In a statement, Gabriel Stricker, Google's director of global communications and public affairs, said, “The claim that Tribune asked Google to stop crawling its newspaper Web sites is untrue.”

United's stock fell nearly 75% as a result of the false report, but mostly rebounded on the same day. The old news item was disseminated after an employee of advisory firm Income Securities Advisors (ISA), who found it via Google News, posted the story to a Bloomberg service. ISA president Richard Lehmann, said he “pulled this story immediately” when the error became apparent.

Google communicated its role in the saga mainly through its blog, which Stricker noted allows it to go into detail about technical issues.

Josh Cohen, Google's business product manager, blogged that a new link appeared on the Sun-Sentinel's popular business stories section after 1am on Sunday, September 7, with no standard news- paper article dateline, causing the misidentification.

For its part, United posted a statement to its Web site that explained it was an old story, and that the company, “continues to execute its previously announced business plan... and continues to have strong liquidity.”

Robin Urbanski, United manager of media relations, said it is not conducting media outreach or setting up company executives for interviews as a result of the incident.

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