Meet Retracto

Introducing Andrew Breitbart’s “correction alpaca”

Andrew Breitbart is well on his way to building an online media empire to call his own. I’d call him the right’s version of Arianna Huffington, but I’m worried that might make him send his alpaca after me.

Let me explain.

In late January, after James O’Keefe was arrested for allegedly tampering with Senator Mary Landrieu’s office phones, Breitbart’s new Big Journalism Web site began featuring posts from “Retracto, the Correction Alpaca,” who was identified as “a Senior Fellow at” and given an adorable headshot to boot.

Over the ensuing weeks, Retracto has been one busy alpaca. He’s published posts pointing out errors and requesting corrections from news organizations such as the Associated Press, Huffington Post, The Atlantic, the Los Angeles Times, Talking Points Memo… the list goes on. Mostly, Retracto tries to call attention to incorrect reporting about O’Keefe.

There are already over twenty posts from Retracto on the site, and he’s been able to coax corrections out of many of his targets. Others seem to ignore this insistent, yet polite, camelid. Retracto is also on Twitter, and, in a series of tweets sent on February 23, he recently did his best to get the attention of political reporter Tommy Christopher, who recently had a rather public spat with Andrew Breitbart. Christopher directed his tweets at Breitbart and ignored Retracto. Being a Correction Alpaca appears is sometimes a thankless job. I wanted to learn more about his lot in life, so I contacted the folks at Big Journalism to request an interview with Retracto.

I had a lot of questions. Has he even been driven to spit by an unresponsive media outlet? And how exactly does an alpaca get into the correction business?

The nameless person who responded to my e-mail offered to have “Retracto, through his assistant,” respond to questions via e-mail. I e-mailed back some of my more straightforward questions ranging from “So far, what kind of reaction have you been getting from media outlets that have been featured on Retracto?” and “Is there one particular request for correction that ended up being labor-intensive, controversial? Please share the details,” to “What are Retracto’s qualifications for doing this?”

I didn’t hear back by deadline. So I’m writing a column about a “Correction Alpaca” without the benefit of his own words. Which, I have to admit, makes it all the more likely that I too will face the wrath of Retracto. Or some of his supporters. It’s important to note that Retracto has lots of friends. In fact, he already inspired his very own tribute song. Some sample lyrics:

The story’s gonna come out whether they like it or not

If they told it like it is they wouldn’t be in this spot

Lyin’ to the people gets a psychotic reaction

But Retracto calls them out now they’re makin’ retractions

I can honestly say it’s the best song ever written about an alpaca, hands down. And it generated over 100 comments on the site. That’s a lot for a Retracto post, though many of them generate a decent amount of feedback from Big Journalism’s readers. Republican blogger Moe Lane, for one, loved Retracto at first sight:

Breitbart has far too much fun with this medium, sometimes. “Retracto, the Correction Alpaca” is apparently going to be Big Journalism’s go-to camelid for issues involving media oopsies. Currently Retracto is calling for corrections in the O’Keefe affair…

I’m sorry. “Retracto, the Correction Alpaca.” If you don’t find that funny – not even a little – not only are you at the wrong site, but there might not actually be hope for you.

I tend to agree. Corrections—whether you are requesting them, writing them, or responding to requests for them—are not one of the more sexy and enjoyable parts of practicing journalism. They are necessary, important, and occasionally humorous. But no one ever sat in a journalism class daydreaming about one day handling corrections for a media outlet. No, not even me.

So if it helps the cause to invent an imaginary alpaca and put him on the corrections beat, then I’m ready to start a herd.

Now there’s another question I’m hoping they’ll get around to answering: Does Retracto have any siblings?

Correction of the Week

“AN article on 10 August 2009 “Terror case doc works in casualty” reported that, following his court acquittal on terrorist charges, Dr Asha was working for the NHS. Some readers may have understood the article to mean that Dr Asha is a terrorist suspect and a threat to national security. This was not our intention and it is untrue. We wish to make clear that The Sun stands by the jury’s verdict and does not suggest he is involved in terrorism. We apologise to Dr Asha and his family for any embarrassment and distress caused.” – The Sun (U.K.)

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Craig Silverman is the editor of and the author of Regret The Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech. He is also the editorial director of and a columnist for the Toronto Star.