I’ve been reading Matt Taibbi’s archives and chortling over some of his phrasing. Here’s a great one:
It used to take the commercial media at least a day or two to spread a botched news story from coast to coast, but these days, when you add new technology like Twitter to Tea Party paranoia, you can hang a black t-shirt over a web-cam and within ten minutes half of middle America thinks it’s a total eclipse of the sun.
He’s referring to an incident at the end of August, when actor John Cusack tweeted, in all capital letters:
I AM FOR A SATANIC DEATH CULT CENTER AT FOX NEWS HQ AND OUTSIDE THE OFFICES OR [sic] DICK ARMEY AND NEWT GINGRICH-and all the GOP WELFARE FREAKS
Now, most of us would look at that and say, “Joke.” I mean, the all caps are kind of a giveaway, yes? If not, then surely the reference to a satanic death cult center.
The folks at FOX News are apparently not like most of us, because they immediately seized on this tweet and reported on it in all seriousness, complete with talking heads (including a Beverly Hills psychiatrist) and discussions on Cusack’s incitement to violence.
Fast forward to October 21, when the Nielsen Company put out an article based on its survey of iPad owners, claiming that 32% of them were “download virgins,” meaning they had never downloaded an app.
MSNBC, BBC, Wired, and a gazillion Apple and tech blogs promptly reprinted this claim, only to look like idiots when Nielsen put out a correction the next day. Turns out the number of download virgins is a little smaller than previously stated — rather than one iPad owner in three, it’s closer to one in ten (9%). This makes a lot more sense to me and any other tech-oriented person.
These two erroneous news stories have one thing in common: they’re both examples of what happens when news organizations rush to press. (Or to the air, in the case of FOX News.) In yon olden days, when newspapers came out once a day, and tech magazines came out once a month, information was fact-checked. Editors and writers both took the time to say, “Wait a minute…” when something didn’t look right. This didn’t eliminate all errors, but it certainly reduced them.
All of which is to say, be careful out there. The old joke of “I heard it on the news so it must be true” has never been more ironic.
(Note: for the purposes of this blog post, I’m assuming that FOX News really did make an error, and wasn’t knowingly and cynically pushing misinformation and innuendo on its viewers. That is a big, fat assumption, and probably as flamingly wrong as both of the referenced news stories.)