Philadelphia Inquirer Deletes Article Critical of Controversial Sixers Arena

The newspaper didn't issue a retraction notice, raising some red flags.

A rendering of 76 Place, the controversial new Sixers arena proposed for Philadelphia

A rendering of 76 Place, the controversial new Sixers arena proposed for Philadelphia (Image Courtesy of Gensler and CBL Real Estate, LLC)

Near the end of last week, the Inquirer did something that the newspaper of record in the birthplace of freedom doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) often do: disappeared an entire article.

On Thursday afternoon, the paper published a story by Pulitzer-winning Inquirer reporter Jeff Gammage headlined “Group Calls Sixers Plans for New Arena ‘Inconsistent’ with International Human-Rights Law.” In the story, which, thanks to the magic of the internet, you can read here, Gammage writes about Canadian-based activist group The Shift, whose stated mission is to “secure the human right to housing.”

Gammage, who didn’t reply to my request for comment, explained that The Shift fired off a letter to the Sixers owners, a letter the group promised to make public in September. Which it did. Hence the Inquirer report. (You can read the letter here.)

In the letter — and in a subsequent interview Gammage did with a representative of The Shift — the group claims that the proposed Sixers arena will negatively impact the surrounding community, in large part because of housing issues The Shift says the arena will create.

Gammage did speak with Nicole Gainor, who represents the Sixers on all things arena-related. She told Gammage that the group’s letter “isn’t based on a clear understanding of how we are thoughtfully approaching this project” and pointed out key errors and omissions in the letter, including the fact it didn’t note that the arena project actually includes housing.

Gammage’s story ran online on Thursday afternoon. And at some point thereafter, it vanished from the Inquirer‘s website. In the olden days, when stories only appeared in print, a publication couldn’t just make a story go away. If there was a problem with a story that appeared in print, an editor would issue a retraction notice, correction or clarification in a subsequent print issue. But in this digital era of news, a publication can just hit delete, which is what the Inquirer did. The story never appeared in the print issue. And the Inquirer didn’t bother to issue a retraction note even though it did, in fact, retract the article.

Shortly after the Inquirer pulled the plug, activists called the organization out on Twitter for doing so. And a spokesperson for anti-arena activists sent out a press release, pointing out what the Inquirer had done. “Hours after the Philadelphia Inquirer posted coverage of the letter written by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, the original story was pulled from the website without explanation, raising questions about the Sixers’ involvement in its deletion,” read the press release.

On Sunday, I reached out to Inquirer editor and vice president Gabriel Escobar, asking him via email why the Inquirer removed the story, as opposed to correcting or clarifying anything that might have been wrong with it. And I also pressed him on the lack of a retraction notice.

Escobar’s short emailed reply was as follows: “The article that briefly appeared Thursday on, in hindsight, required more context and more reporting. For those reasons, we decided to take it down while continuing to pursue the story.”

Guess we’ll just have to wait for a revision.

Ed Note: This article has been updated after The Shift clarified for us when their organization sent the letter to the Sixers.