Monday, June 23, 2014

Too good to check out

Here's a suggested rubric for those stories that are too good to check out: if the phrase "went viral" occurs in the second or third paragraph, lie down until the feeling goes away. By the time you get up, somebody might have asked the relevant questions:

The report of a Jackson KFC accused of asking a 3-year-old girl to leave because of facial scars was a hoax, according to the Laurel Leader-Call.

And that's especially true if the attribution is too good to clog up the display type. Naturally, a story about a Bible -- OK, a book that "has Bible verses in contemporary language" -- stopping the bullets of three rampaging blackamoors on a gang initiation spree has the sort of frontpage appeal that rates a "Divine Intervention" at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network. Too bad it took nearly three months for the null hypothesis to catch up:

A white bus driver's story that a religious book in his shirt pocket blocked bullets as he was attacked by three black men isn't supported by evidence and testing, Dayton police said Wednesday as they closed the case, which had been investigated as a possible hate crime.

We make a big deal, for good reason, about the "discipline of verification" that distinguishes journalism from the lesser crafts. If we want to have those skills available next time we're trying to inform the national debate on launching a war* in the Fractious Near East, we'd do well to hone them on the smaller-scale stuff available locally. Doesn't matter if you personally think KFC and Saddam Hussein are more or less interchangeable; what matters is that you ask the fairly obvious questions when the mob is forming.

* Imagine that.



Anonymous raYb said...

Given the media's voracious appetite for art, I'm puzzled why no one asked to see and photograph the Good Book, maybe even read the Pistol of Paul to the Romans.

3:12 PM, June 24, 2014  
Blogger fev said...

Were the disciples in one accord? Because it could have been one of those drive-by gang attacks.

4:09 PM, June 24, 2014  

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