MADRID (AP) — The leading Spanish newspaper El Pais withdrew and reprinted its Thursday edition after discovering that its front-page exclusive photograph supposedly showing ailing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez being treated in Cuba was a fake.
The newspaper apologized to its readers for the mistake and said it was investigating how the photo made its way into the paper. The Venezuelan government announced that it would sue El Pais saying the image was grotesque and an offense to Chavez's dignity.
The poor-quality image showed the head of a man apparently on a hospital bed with tubes in his mouth.
El Pais had received the picture from an agency, Gtres Online, which declined to comment on the situation. The agency handles mainly entertainment and celebrity photos. The agency also offered the photo to The Associated Press and another Spanish newspaper, which both turned it down.
El Pais said it withdrew its Thursday edition and changed its website after it discovered the photograph was not of Chavez. The Venezuelan president has not been seen in public since before he underwent cancer surgery on Dec. 11 in Cuba.
The newspaper early Friday published details of the incident on its website, saying it will review its procedures. It said the agency Gtres Online had offered the newspaper the image on Wednesday morning through regular channels. The newspaper said that when it asked Gtres Online about the origin of the photo, "the agency said it come from a Cuban nurse through her sister, a resident in Spain."
El Pais prints some 340,000 copies daily. Many copies had already been distributed before the decision to reprint but the newspaper declined to say how many with the fake photograph had reached the streets.
El Pais said the photograph was on its online edition for 30 minutes before the error was discovered and the site changed.
Venezuelan Information Minister Ernesto Villegas denounced the photograph as a fake in a series of Twitter messages. He said the picture came from a video of another man and he circulated a link. That video, uploaded to YouTube in 2008, clearly shows another patient lying on a treatment table as doctors and nurses insert a tube into his throat.