New York Times media reporter Jeremy Peters on Tuesday defended Republican Gov Nikki Haley of South Carolina from a phony scandal story that made the rounds of the media via Twitter last week, in "A Lie Races On Twitter Before Truth Can Boot Up." Peters reminded readers that Haley had previously been hit with an "unfounded blog report of marital infidelity." So why did the Times eagerly make that "unfounded" report a news story in 2010?
It took only two minutes.
An unfounded report on a little-known blog claiming that Gov. Nikki R. Haley was about to be indicted rocketed from South Carolina political circles into national circulation, along the way becoming the latest lesson in the perils of an instantaneous news culture.
The item’s rapid journey from hearsay to mainstream journalism, largely via Twitter, forced Ms. Haley to rush to defend herself against a false rumor. And it left news organizations facing a new round of questions about accountability and standards in the fast and loose “retweets do not imply endorsement” ethos of today’s political journalism.
There were elements of old-fashioned South Carolina sabotage: an embattled Republican governor and possible vice-presidential contender dogged by unproven accusations of impropriety. And there were modern twists: a liberal-leaning 25-year-old blogger eager to make a name for his new Web site, and a buzz-seeking political press corps that looks to the real-time, unedited world of Twitter as the first place to break news.
In retrospect, there were clear reasons to doubt the March 29 report, from a blog called the Palmetto Public Record, that Ms. Haley was facing indictment on tax fraud charges. The blog’s editor, Logan Smith, never asked the governor’s office for comment before he posted his report. Later, in an e-mail, Mr. Smith said he could not be sure whether his sources were correct.
“I reported that credible sources said they believed the governor would be indicted — not that I knew she would be indicted, or even whether or not I personally believed she would be indicted,” he said. (He did not respond to questions asking for further clarification.)
But journalists from news outlets that reposted Mr. Smith’s report on Twitter -- including establishments old and venerable (The Washington Post, CBS News) as well as new and widely read (The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed) -- had no way of knowing that in the minutes after it went online, and did not stop to check first.
Ms. Haley, who has lived with an unfounded blog report of marital infidelity since before she took office, fears that the episode may have done lasting damage to her reputation. She said she was not certain that it could be easily repaired. But she is certain of one thing.
“There will be another one,” she said, predicting another attempt to smear her online. “I’m not one that thinks this is going to stop.”
While Peters admits the previous infidelity allegation was based on an "unfounded blog report," the Times treated it seriously when it surfaced in 2010. Shaila Dewan sounded positively giddy while reporting for the May 26, 2010 Times on what the paper now calls an "unfounded blog report": "But now, one of [South Carolina Gov. Mark] Sanford's political allies -- who is a top contender to succeed him -- finds herself embroiled in a possible sex scandal of her own." The headline certainly betrayed no qualms or doubts: "Scandal Rattles Politics In South Carolina, Again."