This week WaPo ran a nice “anatomy of a rumor” story on the
rampant story regarding the death of the Washington times. The tone is fairly
WaPo, in that it has the “shame on that grubby little blogger” feel to it. If
you haven’t readDCRTV.com, you’re not missing much. However, this little
tidbit from the WaPo really bugged me:
It turns out that Hughes’s reporting consisted of receiving
an anonymous email. In an interview, Hughes, 52, of Reston, said he
occasionally receives reliable tips about the Times from the same email
account. Hughes said he has no clue who the source is. “I just get this
source sending me this stuff blindly,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s
a man or a woman. I just know the email address. I don’t know who it is. I get
people like that all the time.”
Hughes has been running his web site for about 13 years.
“I am not at The Washington Post, so I don’t have to know exactly who it
is,” he says. “I don’t consider myself to be a journalist.” He
added that he didn’t feel any need to call the Times for confirmation of the
item because “I don’t have anyone there who will talk to me.”
When a guy like this just dumps a turd like this out into
the ether, shame on him. However, when everyone else does the “glomming on”
thing by taking the rumor and trying to turn it into a well-polished piece of
shit, shame on them. Every story that goes after this thing just appropriates
most of the original story and then speculates on it a bit.
Many years ago, a paper I worked at had a small story about
a guy who died by slamming his motorcycle into a telephone pole. The competing
paper couldn’t confirm it, so they pulled the story from our paper, did a short
rewrite, didn’t credit anyone and published it. The radio stations, looking for
local news for their a.m. block, saw the story in not one but two local papers
and did a “rip and read” off of it.
The problem? The guy wasn’t dead. The reporter screwed up.
This caused all manner of problems for everyone involved
when the family rightly raised holy hell about this.The wife of this man was getting condolence calls from
people who apparently knew her husband was dead before she did. She screamed at
the hospital people, who swore up and down the guy was still alive. Eventually,
this got really ugly when it turned out thathe was alive and that the story was wrong.
The stations, the other paper and probably the damned weekly
shopper in town all did the 5-year-old kid thing: “But HE did it so I thought
it was OK!” That doesn’t work when you’re throwing mud balls as a 5-year-old or
when you fail to look stuff up on your own as a journalist. Pretending not to
be a journalists or saying you’re not a journalist isn’t an excuse either. If
you inject yourself into the public discussion, you need to be held accountable
for what you say and do as your actions have ramifications.
A failure to understand that not only makes you a lousy
journalist but a lousy citizen.