Rumors crossing into journalism

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.

via Whispering campaigns can take flight in new media – The Washington Post.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.quietedwaters.com Josh

    It’s certainly one of the dangers of the Internet. Although viral campaigns and instant news can quickly alert us to important new events, they can also damage someone’s reputation with lightning speed.

  • http://www.quietedwaters.com Josh

    It’s certainly one of the dangers of the Internet. Although viral campaigns and instant news can quickly alert us to important new events, they can also damage someone’s reputation with lightning speed.

  • Tom Hering

    You mean the way a story about a secret Russian weapon gets started on conspiracy sites, then gets revived years later by the bored/credulous staff writers of a paper like the Herald Sun, and then ends up as a “news” discussion on a really good blog? :-D

  • Tom Hering

    You mean the way a story about a secret Russian weapon gets started on conspiracy sites, then gets revived years later by the bored/credulous staff writers of a paper like the Herald Sun, and then ends up as a “news” discussion on a really good blog? :-D

  • SKPeterson

    There are significant indicators that Nikki Haley was engaged in tax fraud in order to fund the development of a psychotronic mind gun for use in crowd control in South Carolina.

  • SKPeterson

    There are significant indicators that Nikki Haley was engaged in tax fraud in order to fund the development of a psychotronic mind gun for use in crowd control in South Carolina.

  • Tom Hering

    A low-power version, right? Because that’s all that’s required for the conservative-minded population of South Carolina – according to that other Herald Sun article?

  • Tom Hering

    A low-power version, right? Because that’s all that’s required for the conservative-minded population of South Carolina – according to that other Herald Sun article?

  • SKPeterson

    Tom – They don’t even have to turn it on. They just tell the people that they’re now under the control of a psychotronic mind gun and to disperse. Works every time.

  • SKPeterson

    Tom – They don’t even have to turn it on. They just tell the people that they’re now under the control of a psychotronic mind gun and to disperse. Works every time.

  • formerly just steve

    What happened to the bloggers and journalists who propagated those rumors? Where they fired? Or, in the case of bloggers, shamed into extinction?

  • formerly just steve

    What happened to the bloggers and journalists who propagated those rumors? Where they fired? Or, in the case of bloggers, shamed into extinction?

  • helen

    Better delete this thread before it “goes viral”!?

  • helen

    Better delete this thread before it “goes viral”!?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I recently read on a blog that “Pepsi really is using the bodies of aborted children to make its products”. But, on closer inspection, that turned out to be a falsehood as well. Wonder if we should shame that blogger “into extinction” as well?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I recently read on a blog that “Pepsi really is using the bodies of aborted children to make its products”. But, on closer inspection, that turned out to be a falsehood as well. Wonder if we should shame that blogger “into extinction” as well?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Also, for those tempted to read this article as just another example of how the “liberal” media has slandered yet another Republican, you might want to take note of the involvement of the Drudge Report in all this.

    Indeed, here’s what the New York Times article on this had to say about him:

    Matt Drudge, whose heavily visited Drudge Report can help drive decisions in newsrooms around the country…

    It’s funny, isn’t it, how the “liberal” media can be so driven by a right-wing provocateur like Drudge?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Also, for those tempted to read this article as just another example of how the “liberal” media has slandered yet another Republican, you might want to take note of the involvement of the Drudge Report in all this.

    Indeed, here’s what the New York Times article on this had to say about him:

    Matt Drudge, whose heavily visited Drudge Report can help drive decisions in newsrooms around the country…

    It’s funny, isn’t it, how the “liberal” media can be so driven by a right-wing provocateur like Drudge?

  • SKPeterson

    Todd – What to think about the NYT article you cite. Is it a tacit admission that the modern news cycle moves so quickly that no reporter or editor can be bothered to actually report facts or develop a story, but simply that news is like nature, it abhors a vacuum and must be filled? Further, is it an admission that the news cycle vacuum does not place a high value on accuracy, but rather values immediacy? Is it a recognition that we view Twitter updates or Facebook statuses as primary source material without actual face-to-face or verbal confirmation of content, intent or truthfulness? Or is it indicative of a complete lack of thoughtfulness, introspection or reflection between and within all the various modes of the modern news media that things are not even questioned or reasoned through, but simply passed on prima facie, to be shouted from the electronic corners and soapboxes to draw an audience, any audience?

  • SKPeterson

    Todd – What to think about the NYT article you cite. Is it a tacit admission that the modern news cycle moves so quickly that no reporter or editor can be bothered to actually report facts or develop a story, but simply that news is like nature, it abhors a vacuum and must be filled? Further, is it an admission that the news cycle vacuum does not place a high value on accuracy, but rather values immediacy? Is it a recognition that we view Twitter updates or Facebook statuses as primary source material without actual face-to-face or verbal confirmation of content, intent or truthfulness? Or is it indicative of a complete lack of thoughtfulness, introspection or reflection between and within all the various modes of the modern news media that things are not even questioned or reasoned through, but simply passed on prima facie, to be shouted from the electronic corners and soapboxes to draw an audience, any audience?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    SK (@10), I think you’re reading a bit too much into that article, even if your conclusions might be somewhat true in this specific case.

    Is it a tacit admission that the modern news cycle moves so quickly that no reporter or editor can be bothered to actually report facts or develop a story…?

    Really? That would appear to be a rather ill-supported, hasty conclusion, even if all you had to go off was the Times article I cited. After all, it said (my emphasis):

    1:12 p.m.: A USA Today reporter contacts Ms. Haley’s office with a request for comment, the first of dozens of such inquiries that will deluge the governor and her staff for the rest of the day.

    Careful you don’t mimic the behavior you’re attempting to decry! The fact that some journalists screwed up here does not tell us that all of them did.

    And it’s not simply that “the news cycle vacuum does not place a high value on accuracy, but rather values immediacy”, but rather that accuracy and immediacy are in tension — and always have been. “Dewey defeats Truman”, anyone? This is nothing new. The Internet has only changed the speed of things, not the nature of them.

    Is it a recognition that we view Twitter updates or Facebook statuses as primary source material without actual face-to-face or verbal confirmation of content, intent or truthfulness?

    Perhaps, but why would that be wrong, exactly? You’re condemning the technology, when it’s merely the medium. If the Tweet came from the governor’s official account, I’d say that’s as reliable as actually ringing up the governor’s office — either way, you’re likely hearing from a staffer, but it’s that staffer’s job to convey the governor’s position on things.

    The problem isn’t simply “Twitter updates or Facebook statuses as primary source material”, it’s that the source material that was used in this case wasn’t meaningfully corroborated. The same story could’ve played out with the initial rumor being spread through some older medium, couldn’t it?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    SK (@10), I think you’re reading a bit too much into that article, even if your conclusions might be somewhat true in this specific case.

    Is it a tacit admission that the modern news cycle moves so quickly that no reporter or editor can be bothered to actually report facts or develop a story…?

    Really? That would appear to be a rather ill-supported, hasty conclusion, even if all you had to go off was the Times article I cited. After all, it said (my emphasis):

    1:12 p.m.: A USA Today reporter contacts Ms. Haley’s office with a request for comment, the first of dozens of such inquiries that will deluge the governor and her staff for the rest of the day.

    Careful you don’t mimic the behavior you’re attempting to decry! The fact that some journalists screwed up here does not tell us that all of them did.

    And it’s not simply that “the news cycle vacuum does not place a high value on accuracy, but rather values immediacy”, but rather that accuracy and immediacy are in tension — and always have been. “Dewey defeats Truman”, anyone? This is nothing new. The Internet has only changed the speed of things, not the nature of them.

    Is it a recognition that we view Twitter updates or Facebook statuses as primary source material without actual face-to-face or verbal confirmation of content, intent or truthfulness?

    Perhaps, but why would that be wrong, exactly? You’re condemning the technology, when it’s merely the medium. If the Tweet came from the governor’s official account, I’d say that’s as reliable as actually ringing up the governor’s office — either way, you’re likely hearing from a staffer, but it’s that staffer’s job to convey the governor’s position on things.

    The problem isn’t simply “Twitter updates or Facebook statuses as primary source material”, it’s that the source material that was used in this case wasn’t meaningfully corroborated. The same story could’ve played out with the initial rumor being spread through some older medium, couldn’t it?

  • SKPeterson

    I agree with the notion that the same story could have played out via an older medium. However, I don’t think it would have reached national play. It is this potential for a story to get national or international headlines rapidly that is the issue, at least to my mind. As to your discounting the masquerading of electronic rumor and innuendo as journalism, I recognize that there were numerous attempts to gather comments from the governor after the story had broken and spread nationally. It appears that many of these queries weren’t to made to validate the charges, but to get the governor’s response to the (false) charges. Similar to to asking “How often do you beat your wife?”

  • SKPeterson

    I agree with the notion that the same story could have played out via an older medium. However, I don’t think it would have reached national play. It is this potential for a story to get national or international headlines rapidly that is the issue, at least to my mind. As to your discounting the masquerading of electronic rumor and innuendo as journalism, I recognize that there were numerous attempts to gather comments from the governor after the story had broken and spread nationally. It appears that many of these queries weren’t to made to validate the charges, but to get the governor’s response to the (false) charges. Similar to to asking “How often do you beat your wife?”

  • formerly just steve

    tODD, #8, was it a falsehood? Really?

  • formerly just steve

    tODD, #8, was it a falsehood? Really?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    FJSteve (@13), yes, that statement about Pepsi (@8) is false.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    FJSteve (@13), yes, that statement about Pepsi (@8) is false.

  • formerly just steve

    tODD, It seems to me the story in said blog, if we are speaking of the same blog, was pretty accurate. Beyond the headlines, which, while not technically incorrect, was over-simplified, which part was false?

  • formerly just steve

    tODD, It seems to me the story in said blog, if we are speaking of the same blog, was pretty accurate. Beyond the headlines, which, while not technically incorrect, was over-simplified, which part was false?

  • formerly just steve

    I figured I’d go back and re-read the story and some of the comments. I know there was quite a bit of discussion about the technicalities of the practice and that it was a single group of stem cell lines from a single abortion some decades ago. Knowing that may change some people’s perspectives but does it make the story false? I mean, false like a rumor of being indicted for tax fraud?

  • formerly just steve

    I figured I’d go back and re-read the story and some of the comments. I know there was quite a bit of discussion about the technicalities of the practice and that it was a single group of stem cell lines from a single abortion some decades ago. Knowing that may change some people’s perspectives but does it make the story false? I mean, false like a rumor of being indicted for tax fraud?


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X