By Tim Peacock
When news broke this week that Breitbart had featured a story based off a Daily Currant
satire article, the internet all sat back and had a good chuckle. After discovering they posted an article based off an Onion-style online site, rather than own up to their error and admit they didn’t do their due diligence, Breitbart instead chose to delete the story and act as if it never happened. Alas, on the internet, this “pretend it never happened” method of avoiding the truth simply won’t work in this day and age where a (screenshot) can tell a thousand words.
While Breitbart pointed the finger at their source (The Boston Globe, which also ran the satire story as real news), the whole of the blame cannot be placed on the mainstream media source they obtained the story from (though they will also qualify for the next thing I’m about to say). Whatever happened to actual, honest-to-goodness fact checking in journalism? What happened to confirming a piece of news through at least two independent sources before running with a story so large and so potentially devastating to someone’s career? Both Breitbart and the Boston Globe should be ashamed of themselves. Moreso though, Breitbart has some crow pie to eat after this.
You see, not too long ago, Breitbart made a huge fuss
over Washington Post columnist Suzi Parker when she made a similar error in fact-checking by quoting (yes, you guessed it) the Daily Currant as a news source (without independently verifying her story through another source). Breitbart said of the satirical story written about Sarah Palin:
But never one to let facts get in the way of a good Narrative, the “we-meant-to-do-that” Post merely added a correction, changed the headline to “Sarah Palin tries to stay relevant,” scrubbed the Al-Jazeera references (the original post can be read here), and still ripped Palin for, uhm, being so desperate to stay relevant. If Parker had a shred of self-awareness, integrity, and dignity, she would have changed the headline to “Too Good To Check,” and under it posted an essay about how shallow, smug, bitterly angry partisanship can blind you to common sense.
In their holier-than-thou, above-it-all attitude about another organization neglecting to check their facts before publication, Breitbart essentially started the clock on a time bomb that would eventually explode, leaving them with tiny bits of satire to pick up in the aftermath. Because, you see, Breitbart’s explanation as to why they merely deleted the story and shrugged off the mistake wasn’t just “we were duped too” as the author’s tweet
on the incident would indicate; no, it’s much more than that. Had several legitimate news sources reported on this story (which, even with one major media source reporting on it still sounds made-up) Breitbart might be able to escape the inevitable conclusion that they felt they were “too good to check.” Alas, they saw a headline on one publication they frequently quote, failed to due even basic due diligence in checking to see if it was true, and ran the story. And when called out on it by the rest of the media, Breitbart shrugged their shoulders, deleted the piece and said “oops!”
To his credit, Paul Krugman took the story in stride. On his blog he wrote
about the story and the way it all came out, saying:
OK, I’m an evil person — and my scheming has paid off. On Friday I started hearing from friends about a fake story making the rounds about my allegedly filing for personal bankruptcy; I even got asked about the story by a reporter from Russian television, who was very embarrassed when I told him it was fake. But I decided not to post anything about it; instead, I wanted to wait and see which right-wing media outlets would fall for the hoax. And Breitbart.com came through!
This embarrassment comes only weeks after the prior Breitbart/Shapiro “Friends of Hamas” debacle
that tarnished the conservative reporting model image. In both that case and in this one, simple fact-checking would have prevented a lot of factually incorrect, egregiously over-hyped partisan reporting from making conservatives look like amateurs. These cases aren’t isolated, either. Just a month ago I reported on The Brenner Brief and how they ran a hoax story
that had repeatedly been disproven by several media sources. Instead of owning up to their error – or even deleting the story as Breitbart did – they’re still standing by the false reporting based on the singular, circular-referenced sources that all cite one another.
The worst part of this wave of poorly fact-checked reporting isn’t even the sloppy journalism – it’s the after effects the reporting has on the national conversation. Conservatives tend to stay inside their bubble – the November elections being a prime phenomenon example. When they only receive news that’s poorly fact-checked and often incorrect (I’m looking at you, Fox News), conservatives don’t have a full, accurate view of current events. And when they walk into the real world (outside their conservative bubble), they honestly believe the lies and defend them voraciously. Even after being thoroughly debunked, wingnuts are still pushing the “Friends of Hamas” story on Twitter and other social media. I’m sure the same is true with virtually every other piece of false reporting that comes out of the right – especially since sites like Breitbart aren’t held accountable for their reporting.
You see, when conservative media sites fail to issue a retraction – when they’re allowed to simply delete a story and act as if it never happened – people do not realize the original reporting was false. They go about their lives oblivious to the fact that Obama isn’t attempting a gun grab, that Krugman actually didn’t file for bankruptcy, and that Communists aren’t actually infiltrating government ranks. Try telling those things to conservatives living inside the infamous conservative bubble though. Until we begin holding partisan media like Breitbart accountable for the falsehoods they publish (and delete), we’ll continue seeing a hyper-partisan divide exacerbated by the dissemination of misinformation by those who would seek to protect their own egos rather than admit they were wrong.