The truth is an important part of any news reporting. Your story and your personal and professional credibility are on the line, and if you screw up, it can spin out of control very quickly.
Ask Leigh Ann Caldwell, a reporter for NBC News, who tweeted out earlier that President Donald Trump and retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy negotiated on who would replace the latter. Essentially, she is accusing them of colluding on the pick of Brett Kavanaugh.
There is a problem here on its face: She says at the end that this was all according to someone “who was told of the discussions.” That makes this speculative, third-hand information, which would in no way pass muster under the regular rules of reporting. A fact-checker would laugh themselves silly over using that source as the basis for a story.
Yet, reporters can get away with it on social media. Apparently to great effect.
Source familiar tells NBC that Justice Kennedy had been in negotiations with the Trump team for months over Kennedy’s replacement. Once Kennedy received assurances that it would be Kavanaugh (his former law clerk) Kennedy felt comfortable retiring – @LACaldwellDC & @frankthorp
— Geoff Bennett (@GeoffRBennett) July 10, 2018
This is why the Supreme Court should have term limits. The idea that Justices can leverage their lifetime appointments into power over who replaces them is ridiculous. https://t.co/pKFhZTdGMI
— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) July 10, 2018
If it is true that Kennedy negotiated the Kavanaugh pick with Trump, all his decisions should be called into question. And this would merit a congressional investigation. https://t.co/1VgxuJbfge
— David Corn (@DavidCornDC) July 10, 2018
Her claim went viral. It spun out of control. So, she decided to retract.
I’ve deleted this tweet because it incorrectly implies a transactional nature in Kennedy’s replacement. I am told by a source who was not directly part of the talks that Kennedy provided Pres. Trump/ WH a list of acceptable replacements. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/ptxJmrbH9S
— Leigh Ann Caldwell (@LACaldwellDC) July 10, 2018
Simply put, this is fake news. Nothing about this story passes the smell test, and there used to be a time when this type of thing wouldn’t be so common. But, we live in an era where the absolute loss of one’s senses over Trump combines with the need for confirmation bias and results in shoddy news reporting.
Shame on Caldwell, shame on the ones who spread the story around, and shame on those who bought in with little to no real evidence. It’s appalling that this is becoming so commonplace.