During the Civil War, some northern newspapers, uncertain as to the reliability of dated dispatches sent overland by part-time correspondents at the front, resorted to a standard headline that read:

“Important, If True”

Fast-forward 140 years. These days, the press seems just as befuddled over how to treat Matt Drudge’s more breathless revelations. Today comes Drudge with an utterly unsourced account (sorry, no link here) of Sen. John Kerry’s supposed involvement with a young woman some years ago. As Drudge tells it, Time, ABC, The Washington Post and the Associated Press are all trying to run the story to ground.

Since by its nature, an unsourced report is more difficult to deconstruct and double-check than a sourced one, what’s a handwringing editor confronted with such Drudgery to do?

Not so long ago, the pretty-much universal answer to that question was: Don’t touch it with a ten-foot pole.

But that was then and this is now. And, apparently at Fox’s noon show on WNYW, the answer is: Oh, hell, put it out there and see if it flies.

Matt Drudge himself seems on to this. He waves the rotten fish of the moment in the face of the salivating campaign press, confident that sooner or later one of the hungry seals, mouth watering, will take a bite.

Unfortunately, it’s the viewers who are left with the resultant indigestion and heartburn.

—S.L.

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Steve Lovelady was editor of CJR Daily.