Where finance and media intersect with reality


WW3 Watch: Bloomberg misfires edition

Screenshot 2022-02-05 at 12.42.53

Major scenes at Bloomberg overnight after someone accidentally published a headline saying Russia had invaded Ukraine. When it had not.

The New York Post cites a spokesman from Bloomberg saying the headline was removed and that the news group is now investigating the cause. But the internet says the headline hung about on the home page for at least 30 mins. Which seems like a major oversight. I haven’t verified this FYI, as I only caught up with the news this morning.

Either way, it’s a really major error. Although not without precedent.

Back in 2008, Bloomberg also got in trouble for accidentally publishing a pre-written text about a Federal Reserve interest rate decision, which it had presumably received on embargo terms.

I can’t remember the exact FOMC meeting it related to but the now defunct Gawker reported on the post-f***-up-inquiry on January 14, 2008.  The investigation was led by Bloomberg’s co-founder (and then editor in chief) Matt Winkler — known for his firey temper.

From the gossip column:

According to a colleague, Weiser’s brief headline was a released a few minutes early, as a result of a technical glitch.

The real head turner was that someone leaked an audio clip from Winkler’s confrontation with his his staff. At the time this was quite a big deal as phones had only just become smart, so we weren’t living in the age of the digital camera panopticon as we are now. A stealth recording was pretty snide.

14 years later the audio seems to have vanished from the internet. Luckily, since this occurred pre-Twitter, I found the old Nokia N95 phone which received the original file.

I’ve put it up here for the clicks (obvs, as I’m still working on achieving that all important 1,000 subscriber threshold):

We all make mistakes, of course, so we should be forgiving. And Bloomberg is certainly not the only organisation to make this sort of mistake or to be targeted by hackers (if that might have been a potential cause – though obviously we don’t know).

Even so the incident illustrates a big blind spot (yes, yes, sorry) for markets.

In this case the false release happened just after the market close so any $$ damages are likely to be limited. We think. Though there’s certainly a few macro funds out there that might have been caught out. It will be interesting to see if anything emerges on that front.

What it does do, however, is pose serious questions about newsroom processes. That Bloomberg had pre-written a “Russisa invades Ukraine” story in the first place is also weird. I can understand the background and context of a Russia invasion being pre-written. But usually on any such pre-write the headline would clearly be marked as NOT FOR PUBLICATION or DO NOT PUBLISH.

To go out clean like that, someone would have had to consciously remove this. So I can only presume the accidental publication must have been related to some false belief that it was ready to go, internal sabottage or an external hacking/social engineering. THIS IS SPECULATION I should stress.

Alternatively, there’s the possibility Bloomberg outsourced much of its most important editorial work to SkyNet, which just happened to become self-aware at that moment. Who knows. I’m not personally familiar with Bloomberg editorial process. Perhaps someone in the comments might know.

Either way, whether the error was down to external intervention or not, journos with filing rights are a major target for hacking attacks becuase of the potential carnage a single tweet or false headline can wreak throughout markets or in military counter responses. If geopolitical tensions continue to rise this vulnerability will become ever greater and journalists will end up key participants in a new type of front line action.

For markets, it will pay to pause for verification before acting on anything information that is single sourced.


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3 Responses

  1. Izabella, thoroughly enjoyed your writing at Alphaville – looking forward to more of your posts.

    As for the Bloomberg hiccup, we all know many news outlets generate varying headlines ahead of time – for both outcomes when the situation is binary (presidential elections/superbowls are examples). So no doubt that Bloomberg likely had drafts floating around.

    I find the timing of the “mistake” peculiar and interesting. Its a good time to remember that when Putin took over Crimea, it was on the day the winter olympics at Sochi ended. Literally the same day after world leaders got together in the name of sports and athleticism, Putin annexed an entire country. Perhaps Bloomberg dropping this headline right at the beginning of the olympics – sets Putin on his backfoot. They took away his element of “surprise” and essentially said, not this time sir! Of course, this is all conjecture, the truth is probably miles away.

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