MADRID (AP) – Leading Spanish newspaper El Pais withdrew and reprinted its Thursday edition after discovering its front-page exclusive photograph supposedly showing ailing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez being treated in Cuba was a fake.
The poor-quality image showed the head of man resembling Chavez apparently on a hospital bed and with tubes in his mouth. The newspaper said it could not independently confirm how, when or where the photograph had been taken.
El Pais said it withdrew the edition and changed its website after it discovered the photograph was not of Chavez. Many copies had already been distributed, however.
The newspaper declined to give numbers on how many newspapers with the photograph had reached the streets. The paper prints some 340,000 copies daily. El Pais said the photograph was on the online edition for 30 minutes before the error was discovered and the edition changed.
El Pais said it had received the picture from an agency. It apologized to its readers for the mistake.
Venezuelan Information Minister Ernesto Villegas denounced the photograph as a fake in a series of messages on Twitter. He said the picture came from a video of another man, and he circulated a link. The video, uploaded to YouTube in 2008, clearly shows another patient.
“Would El Pais publish a similar photo of some European leader? Of its director? Yellow journalism valid if the victim is a South American revolutionary,” Villegas said in one of the messages. He accused the paper of systematically violating policies in its own style manual “to attack Venezuela.”
Chavez has not been seen in public since undergoing cancer surgery Dec. 11 in Cuba.
Ian James in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this report.
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