[Update, Dec. 8: Embargo Watch’s Ivan Oransky got the following response from Dwayne Brown, senior public affairs officer in the office of communications of the NASA Science Mission Directorate, when he asked if the agency regretted using the phrase “extra-terrestrial” in its initial press release:

“It’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback. However, the statement was accurate.

“The real issue is that the reporting world has changed because of the Internet/bloggers/social media, etc. A “buzz” term like ET will have anyone with a computer put out anything they want or feel. NASA DID NOT HYPE anything - others did. Credible media organizations have not questioned NASA about any text. Bloggers and social media have……..it’s what makes our country great—FREEDOM OF SPEECH.

“The discussion now is about the science and next steps.”

Calling the press release accurate relies on a technicality, however. A statement can be factually correct and misleading at the same time, due to ambiguity, tenor, or a dozen other rhetorical factors. Moreover, “pitting” (as Oransky put it) blogs against “credible media organizations” belies the fact that blogs at The Washington Post, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, and CBS News were among those that fed the speculation about aliens.]

Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.