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An undated handout photo shows Marco Muzzo.
An undated handout photo shows Marco Muzzo.

Sylvia Stead

Public Editor: The perils of relying on anonymous sources Add to ...

On Wednesday, the lawyer for the man charged in an impaired driving crash that killed three young children – Daniel Neville-Lake, 9, his brother Harrison, 5, and sister Milly, 2 – and their grandfather Gary Neville, said his client will plead guilty as a demonstration of his remorse.

Lawyer Brian Greenspan then held a brief scrum outside the Newmarket, Ont., courthouse to explain what had happened and answer any questions.

He scolded some media outlets, which he said have “incorrectly and inappropriately suggested that there was a plea deal made and have characterized today as a plea deal or a plea bargain. There is no plea deal. There is no plea bargain. The Crown will make its submissions as to what it believes to be the appropriate penalty. We will make our submission as to what we believe to be the appropriate penalty.”

At that point, of course, the judge will determine the penalty.

While it might be reasonable for a broadcast show to speculate on the possibility of a plea bargain, once you write it down online, the story can live forever and the impression, through repeated and permanent coverage, is hard to erase.

Mr. Greenspan was also asked where the accused man, Marco Muzzo, was coming from before the crash. He indicated that a brief media news conference was not the appropriate place to discuss this, but added: “Let me simply say it was not Las Vegas.”

The reference to Las Vegas was widely reported at the time of the crash, based on both anonymous sources and comments on social media. Mr. Greenspan did not say what is correct.

While The Globe and Mail did not refer to a plea deal, it did refer to Las Vegas. It relied on a source, although the story at the time did not attribute it to a source.

As I have said before, when an anonymous source is wrong, the journalist wears the error. We do not know at this point where Mr. Muzzo had been before the crash. In the meantime, The Globe’s reference to Las Vegas has been deleted with a note acknowledging that.

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Follow on Twitter: @SylviaStead

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