It is easy to be wise after the event, but looking at Mail Online’s story about George Clooney’s future mother-in-law it is surprising that the piece did not ring alarm bells earlier on.
Clooney has condemned the story as a “fabrication” and said the central premise – that Baria Alamuddin is from the Druze religious sect and has been telling friends in Beirut that she is against the marriage of her daughter Amal to the actor – is untrue.
Clooney said: “Amal's mother is not Druze. She has not been to Beirut since Amal and I have been dating, and she is in no way against the marriage…”
The big question for me is why didn’t Mail Online put in a call about the story? Clooney must have plenty of PR handlers and it would be easy enough for Mail Online to make a check, but it does not appear to have done so.
Here’s an extract from version one of the piece, which was published on the website on Monday night (no longer online):
…the mom of Clooney's fiancée, Amal Alamuddin, is not so impressed with her daughter's choice – and instead wanted her to marry within their strict Lebanese religious sect, according to close family friends
You would think Amal has hit the jackpot with George Clooney, but Baria is not happy.
'She thinks Amal can do better. She has been telling half of Beirut, in fact anyone that will listen, there are five hundred thousand Druze. Are none of them good enough for her?
There can be harsh penalties for those Druze who marry outsiders. Several women have been murdered for disobeying the rules. Last year a Sunni Muslim man had his penis severed by the male relatives of a Druze woman who defied her family by marrying him.
The friend added: 'There have a been a few jokes in the family about the same thing happening to George!'
Their wedding, thought to be taking place near Lake Como on 12 September will not be a Druze wedding and Druze sheiks will not officiate, as Amal will be considered to be leaving the community and taking on the traditions of her husband, the source explained.
Press Gazette understands that the story came from a regular Mail Online contributor who in turn got it from a trusted source.
But it is difficult to understand how the world’s largest newspaper website could let something like this slip through.
The version which appeared in the print edition of the Daily Mail has been subbed down:
Close family friends told the Daily Mail that 66-year-old Mrs Alamuddin, wants her daughter to find a man within the strict Muslim sect to which her family belongs.
Originally from Lebanon, the Alamuddins are a prominent family within the Druze community, a medieval offshoot of Islam which forbids marriages to outsiders.
A Lebanese family friend, who lives in London, told the Mail: You would think Amal has hit the jackpot with George Clooney, but Baria is not happy.
She thinks Amal can do better. She has been telling half of Beirut, in fact anyone that will listen, there are 500,000 Druze. Are none of them good enough for her?'
While it omits the more tasteless parts of the online version, it retains the central fact which Clooney says is wrong. And he should know.
And it again raises the question of why no call was put it to check the central premise of the story and seek a response. Perhaps the print editors felt safe using information which had already been published by the paper online?
It is worth noting that Mail Online and the Daily Mail newspaper are separate editorial operations with separate editors.
Quite apart from the libel risk, isn’t common professional courtesy to place a call into the target of any story – particularly a disparaging one?
The Sun managed to get hold of Baria Alamuddin for this denial piece (which appeared before Clooney's article for USA Today).
After a strongly-worded piece by Clooney in USA today, the Mail has acted quickly to take the story down and apologise.
The irresponsibility, in this day and age, to exploit religious differences where none exist, is at the very least negligent and more appropriately dangerous. We have family members all over the world, and the idea that someone would inflame any part of that world for the sole reason of selling papers should be criminal.
A spokesman for Mail Online said:
We have removed the article from our website and will be contacting Mr Clooney's representatives to discuss giving him the opportunity to set the record straight.
The Mail said it has launched a full investigation into the matter and Press Gazette understands that it proposes to put new safeguards in place.