Have you ever wondered how something becomes news? Where does the news come from? How does a story stick to the ribs of every media outlet and become so tirelessly regurgitated that we accept it as fact and then quit listening?
Last week the chatter in the Democratic primary was the fidelity of Sen. John Kerry. The story of his possible intern romp had been held by a collection of news organizations while reporters scrambled to quantify the rumors with testimony.
The process of separating news from gossip includes finding multiple sources who corroborate interlocking facts. Why is this important? Once a headline is splashed across the top of a page it becomes, to some degree, the truth.
Our current information landscape allows for that headline to be at the top of a printed page or a Web page.
If you don't already know where the John Kerry story came from, it was released by Internet sleuth Matt Drudge, who rose to fame for exposing Bill Clinton's Monica Lewinsky scandal when Newsweek chose not to run the story. Drudge was right, Newsweek printed it a week later, and now Matt Drudge pulls in more than a million dollars a year in advertising on his Web space.
So what's the problem, he was right, right? Yes, he was right about Clinton, but the Kerry situation seems to be turning sour for our digital newsy. Denials from all involved have surfaced in the past week, and possible misinterpretations of gossip have as well. The young woman in question reportedly joked about being involved with the senator.
In a statement posted last week on www.drudgereport.com, Matt Drudge revealed the following:
"As first reported in this space, a serious investigation of the woman and the nature of her relationship with Sen. John Kerry has been under way at Time magazine, ABC News, the Washington Post, The Hill and the Associated Press, where the woman in question once worked."
Were all of those newsrooms filled with sleeping gas? Why didn't they go with the story? Was it the dreaded "liberal media" bias? No, try journalistic integrity.
Following the Drudge Report's release of the possible scandal, talk radio jumped all over the story and brought up the issue of character in the upcoming presidential election. Character? There's no proof Kerry did anything wrong! What about the character of talk radio hosts who smear candidates they don't like?
Rush Limbaugh read the report verbatim directly from his computer screen to millions of avid listeners. Matt Drudge chose to leave his entire news portal empty the morning he released the story, except for the Kerry rumors, which forced talking heads who use his feed as a crutch to focus the lion's share of their rage on his exclusive.
During an interview with Radar magazine's Camille Paglia, Drudge spoke to the criticism that he's irresponsible with his news tips by saying this:
"I'm not even sure at what point rumors officially become news, Camille. The New York Times just caught a reporter making a great many outright falsehoods over a period of years, so I'm not the only one making mistakes. There have always been questions about journalism and rumor, where one ends and the other begins. But I don't know who it is that officially rings the bell and says, ?Now it can be considered news.'"
I think rumors become news when they're proven to be facts, Matt. Not before. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
Rob Felt is the photographer for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org