The internet can serve as a vast gossip network, a way to spread rumors and falsehoods. That’s bad in itself, but especially when the falsehoods get taken up by the ostensibly legitimate press. And people and their reputations can get hurt in the process. That’s what happened to South Carolina governor Nikki Haley. Kathleen Parker tells the story:
The rumor — that Haley was about to be indicted for tax fraud — was so delicious that other bloggers, tweeters and even some mainstream media outlets felt compelled to repeat it.
Except that it wasn’t true. Not even a little bit. Some twit apparently thought it would be fun to start a rumor and see what happened next. . . .
The New York Times tracked the path of the Haley/tax rumor to show how quickly it traveled from a small spark in the fevered brain of a political enemy into a bonfire of inanity. It began with a blog item, then was tweeted by the Hill, a Washington political newspaper, and reported in a short article by the Daily Beast.
All of this happened March 29 between 12:52 p.m., when the blog post went online, and 1:12 p.m., when a reporter for USA Today decided to call Haley’s office and actually find out if the story was true. Give that reporter a raise! But the rumor was retweeted at 1:14 by a Washington Post reporter and later picked up by online outlets Daily Kos and the Daily Caller. By 3:29, the Drudge Report linked to the Daily Caller article featuring the headline: “Report: DOJ may indict SC Gov. Nikki Haley for tax fraud.”
The next morning, The State, South Carolina’s largest newspaper, had a front-page story. All in a day’s whisper.
What is abominably clear is that this sort of thing can happen to anyone at any time. And much worse things can be said that can’t easily be disproved. Haley extinguished this fire by releasing a letter from the Internal Revenue Service stating that there was no investigation.