On Thursday, Playbill reported that actress Ruthie Ann Miles would be returning to her role as Lady Tiang for the West End production of "The King and I". Managing News Editor, Ryan McPhee, also reported that Miles would share the role with Naoko Mori.
The article also pointed out that "The casting update follows the news that Miles lost the unborn child she was carrying two months after a Brooklyn car crash that took the life of her four-year-old daughter."
Obviously, the news spread like wildfire yesterday with major publications picking up the story such as People Magazine among others.
The only issue was, no one had confirmed whether or not Miles was returning to the role. It was announced in January that Miles was slated to play the role, but the update was that Naoko Mori was also cast. Given the tragic events, it was more than likely that the addition of Mori was in case Miles would not return to the production.
Yesterdat, Entertainment Tonight came out with a report that Miles' participation with the project hadn't been confirmed. They said,
"Playbill reported on Friday that the 35-year-old would share the part with Naoko Mori. According to the production, though, no such decision has been made. It's currently unknown whether or not she will perform in London, the show's rep clarified to ET."
As of this morning, Playbill hasn't corrected the article.
While errors in reporting casting of shows frequently happen and it's usually not a big deal, in this particular instance, it is. Since this story had gained national attention, the implication that she was returning to work was met with a lot of encouragement but also a lot of unfair criticism.
Message boards and comment sections started including comments questioning Miles' mental stability and judgment on how she must process grief. Some commenters even stated how they would have a hard time attending the show and seeing her perform. (I would usually post screenshots of those comments here but for the sake of those who might read this column, there's no need to amplify those messages.)
What angers me is that none of that discussion and unfair judgment would have come up if Playbill and McPhee had done their due diligence when reporting this. McPhee doesn't cite his sources in the piece, either directly or on background. Chances are, he saw the PR release on Mori, saw Miles' name still attached and ran with that without getting confirmation from the production itself. Because if he had contacted the production, they would obviously have told him that Miles' status in the show is still not confirmed and then that could have been mentioned in the piece. Or if anything else, if McPhee hadn't gotten confirmation, explicitly say that in the piece with a quick "at this time, there isn't confirmation if Ruthie Ann Miles is returning to the show." Easy and it prevents the unfair questioning of Miles over the past 24 hours. I'm also surprised that Editor-in-Chief Mark Peikert didn't catch this either.
To me, this is a clear example of speed reporting; trying to get a story out there before anyone else. Lord knows I've been guilty of that as well. But when reporting on a story like this, it has to be 100% correct, especially out of respect for Ruthie, Jonathan, and their family. Was this Playbill's blunder alone? No, plenty of other sites reported on this directly saying that Miles was returning to the role. However, they all listed Playbill's article as the source or pretty much copied it word for word with McPhee’s context additions. If you're going to be first, then you've got to be 100% right.
When Ruthie Ann Miles is ready to return to the stage, she will return to the stage. Publications like Playbill need to respect that process and not rush to report something that could cause more pain.