Thursday, January 17, 2013

Media fact-check policy questioned amid Te'o scandal

Published on USA Today | shared via feedly
With the dramatic revelation late Wednesday afternoon that Kekua never existed and is part of an elaborate hoax, new questions are arising about the media's obligation to fact-check details even amid tighter deadlines, shrinking newsroom staffs and the ceaseless chatter blaring across social media. The hoax was first reported by Deadspin.com, a sports news site.

Enticed by the drama of the star-crossed lovers, numerous reporters took Kekua's existence as fact and freely repeated details from other existing media reports without attempting to speak directly to Kekua, her friends or family members.

"I'm afraid this is the mark of our times," says Tim McGuire, a journalism ethics professor at Arizona State University and former editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "It's an old adage. If your mother tells you (she loves you), check it out. No one's checking urban myths here. This is really an ugly mark on journalism."
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A well-deserved piling on has begun, wherein certain media critics are rightfully taking mainstream media organizations to task for failing in one of their most basic obligations--to check the facts of a story before going to press.

What we have here is a very clear case of confirmation bias, wherein stories are told that fit an expected narrative, advance a certain agenda or simply confirm the writer/researcher's convictions or expectations. Most of the people writing the tragic, yet inspirational story of the personal struggles didn't bother to check the facts because the story they were told fell right in line with what they expected or already believed.

It's a cardinal sin in journalism, but with today's rapid-fire media cycles, it is what it is and everything you read now has to be read with a cynical, untrusting eye.

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