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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Fact checking takes story off the radar

A nice win for good old-fashioned journalism is nicely told on Advancing the Story an American broadcast journalism blog.
The nub of the story was a rumour that US Supreme Court chief justice John Roberts was about to resign for 'personal reasons'. The story was published on the gossip site Radar Online. Respected news blogs including the Huffington Post and the Drudge Report even linked to it. But news organisations got their journalists to do what journalists are supposed to do. They checked their facts.
And guess what? It wasn't true. Here's an interesting anecdote from the blog:
That night, NBC’s Brian Williams told a black tie dinner in Washington, DC, that his network’s Justice correspondent, Pete Williams, had knocked the entire story down in about seven minutes. “Let’s just call it ‘primary sourcing,’” Williams said.
Turns out it was a hoax, set up by a law professor to illustrate to his students something about the credibility of informants. You can read the whole post here.
As the good professor said himself: “Information is easy. Facts are very tough."
The antics of The Yes Men, who managed to dupe the BBC over Bhopal, and more recently the Starsuckers who duped tabloids into believing various made-up stories, show that it's not just online gossip sites that can be caught with their metaphorical trousers down.

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