On Monday, news outlets around the world reported that a Florida artist smashed a $1 million Ai Weiwei vase at Pérez Art Museum Miami.
It turns out that the dollar amount was pulled out of thin air by the arresting officer.
The cop, says New York Times reporter Nick Madigan, “tried to get someone at the museum to tell him the vase’s worth so that he could write it in his report. But the people on duty at the museum that day had no idea, so the cop wrote ‘$1 million’ as a blind, completely uninformed guess.” (I called the Miami Police Department Public Information Office, and was told that they could only read statements they were given, and couldn’t commment on this.)
Madigan, who has been covering the vase story, tells Romenesko readers:
The museum director told me himself yesterday morning that the vase’s value had not yet been assessed for insurance purposes, and that since it had never been sold, there was no actual value placed on it or on the other 15 vases in the group.
The guy who did the damage, Maximo Caminero, whom I reached by phone after his release from custody, said he had heard the cop asking for the vase’s value, and when he didn’t get one, said, “Well, I’m just going to write a million to cover myself” — essentially confirming the museum director’s story.
While the Miami Herald put the $1 million figure in its Monday headline and third paragraph, Madigan’s story today points out that the million-dollar reports “are baseless … and probably stemmed from guesswork by the police.”