RadarOnline, Consider Yourself Warned

At The Monkey Cage, John Sides flags the fascinating Above the Law item that details how those short-lived “John Roberts is stepping down” rumors got started, then comments:

Meanwhile, in my American politics class next week, we’ll be discussing the presidency. If any rumors about Barack Obama’s physical well-being emerge at, say, 2:30 pm on Tuesday, I know nothing about them.

In comments to Sides’s post, meanwhile, fellow Monkey Cager Andrew Gelman asks a typically quant-minded question: “what are the relative costs of falling for a false rumor or passing on a true one?”

If what he’s referring to here is the reputational costs to the media outlet pushing the rumor, this is actually a topic that came up earlier in the CJR newsroom. Obviously, the answer is quite different for different outlets. But given Radar’s current profile—and leaving aside those irritating questions about professional “standards”—was running with this rumor, in some sense, “worth it”? Imagine if they’d been right!

As you move up the journalistic food chain, of course, the potential loss is greater—but once someone else has gone first, the liability is diminished, too, because you can simply report that they’ve reported it.

It’s worth noting that the conclusion of the Above the Law post explicitly disavows this sort of thinking:

And that, dear readers, is what we do around here — we talk to multiple sources, including the sources most directly involved in a given story, in the course of our reporting. We exercise judgment in deciding what to report and when to report it. We do want to be first, but we also want to be right.

So if the JGR retirement rumor leads to the usual bashing of online news sources for purported unreliability, please don’t lump us in with the other outlets. Thanks.


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Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.