Observer retracts article about Allan

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Observer article. (observer.com)
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The New York Observer has issued a retraction 22 months after publishing an article that claimed New York Post editor-in-chief Col Allan was named in transcripts of surveillance audio in the high-profile case against infamous "soccer-mom madam" Anna Gristina.

In a March 29, 2012 article, the Observer, edited back then by Elizabeth Spiers, reported that "Ms. Gristina reportedly boasted of her years-long close association with the editor."

After the article landed, Allan vehemently denied knowing Gristina, a pig-farming mother of four who lives in upstate New York. And one of his reporters, Jeane MacIntosh, 'fessed up to being friendly with her. MacIntosh went a step further by conducting a jailhouse interview with Gristina in which she, too, said she did not know Allan. (Gristina subsequently pleaded guilty and was released.)

Litigation was threatened and a retraction demanded. But Spiers told Capital at the time, "It doesn't make much sense to retract. If she's saying now that she doesn't know Col, that's all well and good, but that's not what she said on the surveillance audio according to our sources. It's certainly possible that she could have been lying on the audio. But note that we didn't report that she was a friend of Col's, only that she claimed to be."

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Now, Spiers' successor, Ken Kurson, is changing the paper's tune.

"[T]he Observer is now persuaded that Ms. Gristina was not referring to Mr. Allan. We have no reason to doubt his assertion that he never knew Ms. Gristina," he wrote in a lengthy correction posted online this morning, citing new details about the surveillance transcript that have come to light in a just-released book by Rebecca Woodard, one of Gristina's former call girls.

"In more than two decades of editing daily newspapers, Mr. Allan has ruffled plenty of feathers and put some powerful noses out of joint," Kurson went on. "But he didn’t deserve to be falsely accused of having a “special friendship” with someone he never met. The Observer regrets this 22-month-old error."

Before Woodard's book hit shelves this week, Capital first revealed the specifics of the transcript, in which Gristina does not in fact name Allan but does say she knows the Post's "editor in chief. Very, very well." She also says, "One of my best friends is the chief editor there. The head editor. One of my very closest friends. You understand?"

Elsewhere in the transcript, however, Gristina appears to be referring to MacIntosh, who has admitted that Gristina was one of her sources over the years.

When the Observer first reported on the matter, it did not possess the actual transcript. Woodard, who said she secretly recorded conversations with Gristina while helping Manhattan prosecutors execute their bust of Gristina's Upper East Side prostitution ring, has published the transcript in her memoir.

Rather, sources familiar with the transcript described its contents to the Observer. It's therefore understandable that the "editor in chief" nuances got lost in translation.

A few things worth noting:

—Kurson's mea culpa appears to have been prompted by the publication this Tuesday of Woodard's book, Call Girl Confidential.

—It's unclear whether the Post did in fact pursue litigation against the Observer.

—When the original Observer article was published, the Post and the Observer shared the same public relations firm, Rubenstein Communications. (These days, the Observer is represented by Hiltzik Strategies.)

Rubinstein reps did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the Post is satisfied with the Observer's apology or if there had been an outstanding legal dispute. We also reached out to Foster Kamer, the author of the original Observer article, and we'll update if we hear back.