United Airlines Error Not Sun-Sentinel's Fault

More and more this looks like some stupid Internet games by some financial types cause the United Airlines stock to plunge, not -- I repeat not -- due to any Sun-Sentinel error in posting an old bankruptcy story.

This from a story in the International Herald Tribune:

The trouble started with a Google search.

A staffer at investment newsletter Income Securities Advisors Inc. in Miami Lakes, Fla., entered the words "bankruptcy" and "2008" in the Internet search engine, according to President Richard Lehmann. ISA does this all the time, searching for overlooked information about companies in trouble, he said.

Lehmann said the top item returned in the Google search was a story about United's bankruptcy filing that appeared on the South Florida Sun Sentinel Web site. The story referred to United's filing on Monday morning. United had filed for Chapter 11 protection on Monday, Dec. 9, 2002. Lehmann said that date was not on the story.

At 10:43 a.m. the staffer posted a summary of the story from the Sun Sentinel site on the financial information service Bloomberg, Lehmann said. Bloomberg has its own journalists but also distributes information from third-party providers such as ISA, for which some subscribers pay extra. Lehmann said all Bloomberg users would have been able to see the headline, though.

After trading around $12 a share Monday morning, the stock of United parent company, UAL Corp., dropped at least as low as $4.62 about five minutes after the ISA article was posted on the Bloomberg terminal. The shares fell as low as $3 before Nasdaq halted trading just before 11:07 a.m. EDT.

"The phones immediately started ringing around here," Lehmann said of the period after his firm posted the story, which was based on a Chicago Tribune article written on the day of United's 2002 bankruptcy filing.

He said his firm did nothing wrong in posting its summary of the Chicago Tribune story.

"The story that we put up was a very accurate translation of the story that appeared in the Chicago Tribune," he said. "The only thing was, it was five years ago."

"We've been doing this for going on 10 years, and this kind of thing has never happened before, so I don't think this calls for any change in procedure," he said.

Bloomberg spokeswoman Judith Czelusniak said the company makes third-party material available to subscribers.

"We do not edit third-party websites or other news organization content. Rather, in addition to our proprietary content and news, we provide information from various sources that Bloomberg users can view," she wrote in an e-mail message.

Editors at the Sun Sentinel did not respond to messages. A statement from the Tribune Co., which owns the Sun Sentinel and the Chicago Tribune, said a preliminary investigation showed that the Chicago Tribune story from 2002 "was located in the archive section of the website of the Sun Sentinel in South Florida. The story contains information that would clearly lead a reader to the conclusion that it was related to events in 2002. In addition, the comments posted along with the story are dated 2002.

So what I see is that yahoo from a Miami Lakes company called Income Securities Advisors, Inc. jumped the gun and posted an old story from the Sentinel on a public forum on Bloomberg. The president of the company, whose name is Lehmann (how strangely appropriate considering the state of the stock market right now), is trying to defend his firm but he should just shut up.

This is clearly on Income Securities Advisors head, not the Sentinel's and not Bloomberg's. Period.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman