Gannett punts questions about corrections arising from another dubious Seresto story to outsourced reporter who wrote it

Nearly a week after Seresto parent company Elanco (NYSE: ELAN) issued a letter demanding corrections to a USA Today story alleging Elanco covered up 11,000 adverse incident reports related to Seresto flea and tick collars–a product Elanco did not even own until more than half way through 2020 – Elanco finally received a response. However, it was not from the publisher of the story. Rather, the response came from a little-known  journalism outlet called   The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, with which USA Today has a partnership. In March, Midwest’s breathless reporting on the same company led to a long article by USA Today alleging that the collars were unsafe.

Following publication of our story on Monday challenging the latest charges made by the Midwest-USA Today team, TCR continued to follow up with Elanco, USA Today, Gannett (the paper’s parent company) and Midwest.  According to Elanco, despite having reached out to Gannett and USA Today to contest the story immediately following publication on Friday, September 24, the company did not receive any written response until Thursday evening, and still has yet to receive a response from anyone at  Gannett — the entity that would arguably be more accountable to its own corrections policy and, of course, the entity that published the story.

Only the little-known Midwest Center sent a response on Thursday evening. Elanco has elected not to release this exchange, even for us to review not for publication, perhaps because the company’s counsel are concerned that the narrative they’ve been delivering to shareholders – that Hettinger’s stories have not harmed the company financially – may not entirely fit with how the communications office has described the situation to Gannett.

TCR has reached out to the story’s author, Jonathan Hettinger, by phone and email and asked if he intends to correct the record. We have also reached out to the Chairman and CEO of Gannett, Michael Reed, and requested his comment, as well as Gannett’s standards editor Michael McCarter. We asked him about Gannett’s corrections policies and how he might explain the lack of response from Gannett staff editors to Elanco’s detailed complaint. Or the apparent effort to punt the responsibility for what its editors choose to publish to the outsourced writer who clearly seems to have an agenda of his own.

To recap some of what Mr. Hettinger got wrong in his latest Elanco story:

  1. Elanco’s acquisition of Bayer Animal Health, including Seresto flea and tick collars, was not completed until August of 2020, yet Hettinger refers to “2020” without specifying the month. Even after Bayer Animal Health was officially acquired by Elanco in August of 2020, even after that point in time, Elanco spokesperson Colleen Dekker told TCR that there was a transitional period.
  2. Legacy Bayer continued to submit hard copies of the incident reports to the EPA, even after Seresto was no longer its responsibility.
  3. The submissions continued despite the communication from the EPA – explained to Hettinger by Elanco, Elanco asserts and shown to TCR – that instructed Bayer not to submit the reports during the pandemic.
  4. The EPA continued to return the filings to Bayer.

Against the backdrop of these obvious gaps in the story, on Tuesday morning, TCR began reaching out to leaders at Gannett and editors at USA Today. We attached a copy of Gannett’s newsroom policy and included excerpts from its corrections policy. We asked each of them to comment on how their lack of response was consistent with the provisions delineated below in Gannett’s corrections policies. No responses.

Correcting errors

When errors occur, the newspaper has an ethical obligation to correct the record and minimize harm.

  • Errors should be corrected promptly. But first, a determination must be made that the fact indeed was in error and that the correction itself is fully accurate.

  • Newsroom staffers should be receptive to complaints about inaccuracies and follow up on them.

  • Newsroom staffers have a responsibility to alert the appropriate editor if they become aware of a possible error in the newspaper.