Of course, some scandals involve genuine misconduct or abuse of the public trust. We need a press corps that is skeptical and aggressive to track down those stories. But Einstein and Glick’s research shows why it’s essential that journalists stick to the facts rather than letting narratives drive their scandal reporting or giving credence to conspiracy theories. Irresponsible coverage creates the potential for a vicious cycle in which conspiracy theories about an administration help generate scandals that, in turn, reinforce yet more conspiracy theories.

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Brendan Nyhan is an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College. He blogs at brendan-nyhan.com and tweets @BrendanNyhan.