John and Wlady, I have to wholehardedly disagree with you about the Politico getting it wrong. I think this is a major deal. It would be one thing if the post had a headline that was softer, or if the story had a lot of qualifications, but it didn’t. Furthermore, it ended up on the front of the Politico webpage, which is supposed to be a more formal news site, and not just a blog, so it carries more authority. The headline emphatically stated “Edwards To Suspend Campaign” and the post began:
John Edwards is suspending his campaign for President, and may drop out completely, because his wife has suffered a recurrence of the cancer that sickened her in 2004, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, an Edwards friend told The Politico.
“At a minimum he’s going to suspend” the campaign, the source said. “Nobody knows precisely how serious her recurrence is. It’ll be another couple of days before there’s complete clarity.”
If Smith wanted to get this information out there, the headline should have read, “Friend Says Edwards To Suspend Campaign.” The blog post should have cautioned that the truth won’t be known until the noon press conference, but, for what it’s worth, a friend said that he’s suspending the campaign. The very next sentence should have been that the Edwards campaign was not confirming this. But according to Smith’s narrative, he didn’t even seek comment from the Edwards campaign before going with the story. That’s absolutely unacceptable. If he did seek comment and they never responded, he should have made that clear. A reporter should not rely on updating the story to report official comment (or no comment). This is basic journalism. Also, Smith says, “A little after 10 a.m., I put out feelers to people in Edwards’ circle who weren’t holed up in Chapel Hill, people I thought might be willing to speak freely.” They may be able to speak more freely, but presumably, if they weren’t “holed up in Chapel Hill,” they would be in less of a position to know the truth.
It’s one thing when bloggers were just pajama-clad hobbyists, but now that we’ve moved into an era when they are speaking with the authority of regular journalists, they need to be held to the same standards. Smith is a solid reporter who has done a lot of excellent work, but he blew it this time, as even he acknowledged. It happens to the best of them. What’s important now is to recognize the error and use this as a moment to impose the same journalistic standards on blogger/reporters. This Edwards debacle should be the exception, not the rule.
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