Topic: Media

The Kerry Rumor
(2/13/2004; 3/8/2004)

It doesn’t matter that the rumors of John Kerry’s affair with an Associated Press reporter were never proven true, or untrue, for that matter. The point here is, they became news before they were known to be true, and every news editor who jumped on a Drudge Report “Flash” is to be condemned. Rumors destroy reputations and do irreparable harm. Journalists are supposed to deal with facts. It is irresponsible and unethical to do otherwise. There is no legitimate controversy about this. It is irresponsible, and epitomizes journalistic non-ethics at their worst.

But don’t blame Drudge. For better or worse, Matt Drudge’s website is designed to cruise the information superhighway picking up detritus and road-kill on the way. His rumors sometimes lead to real stories, but those who read his page know what they are getting, and it isn’t ready for The New York Times.

In the interest of bi-partisan rumor condemning, Ethics Scoreboard must point out that the warmed-over furor regarding President Bush’s National Guard service was hardly more legitimate, although media outlets that turned up their metaphorical noses at the Kerry story were off to the races on the Bush whispering campaign. The justification for the two week long barrage of “what ifs” and “nobody can say for sures” was the lack of documentation, which, it seems superfluous to point out, is not the same as documentation. As with the equally exaggerated “Did someone kill Vince Foster?” feeding frenzy during President Clinton’s first term, there was endless speculation on what might have been in documents that might have been destroyed.

All of this was ignited by intemperate and over-the-top comments by a man who makes his living by being intemperate and over-the-top, film-maker/satirist Michael Moore, who is, on balance, slightly less trustworthy than Matt Drudge. John Kerry missed an opportunity to show his ethics mettle when he refused to dismiss the issue, and innuendo reigned for far too long.

Related Links: "Journalists, John Kerry, and Reporting Rumors" by Aly Colón, on PoynterOnline, discusses questions related to how the media handles rumors such as the one about John Kerry and explores ethical responses.

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