Thursday, August 21, 2008

John Edwards, Bigfoot, and a Mormon were on a boat one day...

John Edwards, Bigfoot, and a Mormon were on a boat one day.

John turned to Bigfoot and said, "Hey, I hear that they found you!"

Bigfoot turned to John and said, "You'd better check your sources. I know that the Inquisitr and CNN were reporting the story based only on a press release. Subsequently, it was determined that the so-called 'evidence' of Bigfoot was really a rubber suit. So they haven't found me yet."

"But," continued Bigfoot, "that's not the real news. The real news," he said, turning to the Mormon, "is that your church is buying Facebook."

"Oh yeah?" said the Mormon. "Where did you hear that?"

"I read Zach Klein's post," replied Bigfoot. "Listen to this..."

I heard from an employee close to the deal that the Mormon church’s genealogy business made an unsolicited bid to acquire Facebook.

"Now if that isn't evidence," said Bigfoot, "then I don't know what is."

"Umm," said the Mormon, "did you read the 3:09 pm update at Brady Brim-DeForest's blog?"

UPDATE (3:09 pm): The Church reached out to me this afternoon. This is the official word from their Public Affairs Spokesperson, Lyman Kirkland:


You can quote this statement:

“This rumor has no foundation whatsoever.”

"So, Bigfoot," the Mormon continued, "you'd better check YOUR sources. But that isn't the hot news anyway."

"So what's the hot news?" asked John Edwards.

"You are," said the Mormon.

Edwards grimaced.

"The news is all over the place that you were having an affair."

John paused for a moment, then fired back. "OK, what were YOUR sources?"

"The National Enquirer," replied the Mormon.

"Yeah, right," sneered Edwards. "And you're gonna believe the National Enquirer?"

"Well," said the Mormon, "ABC News shows an interview in which you admitted the affair."

"Umm, yes," said Edwards quietly. "So I guess sometimes these stories, distributed from a single questionable source, are actually true."

"We now switch you to our remote studios in Louisville, Kentucky," said a voice-over.

"What?!?" said John Edwards, Bigfoot, and the Mormon.

There's been all sorts of controversy over the last few weeks about what should be covered and what shouldn't be covered, whether things are "nonsense," the whole "bloggers are unprofessional, journalists are impeccable" thing, etc.

I find myself qualified to speak on this topic because:
  1. As it turns out, I did not blog on any of these three topics.

  2. Because of the benefit of hindsight, I know that I would have made the perfect call, ignoring the Bigfoot and Facebook-LDS stories, but reating the John Edwards story as fact.
I have to say that I can't fault Steven Hodson on this one. As you may know, Hodson wrote about the Facebook-LDS story at one point, then posted a follow-up story in which he got cranky at Louis Gray's reference to the original post as "nonsense."

So what exactly did Hodson say?

I just caught this over on Hacker News but apparently the Mormon Church is making a bid to buy Facebook lock stock and barrel. This is according to a post by Brady Brim-DeForest on his blog....

Hodson then proceeded to cite his source (Brim-DeForest) as well as Brim-DeForest's source, the aforementioned Zach Klein.

Should Hodson have preceded this with an "I don't know if this is true?" Not necessarily.

Now how would I have covered it? I honestly don't know. Early on, I made a statement about Klein's post in FriendFeed:

Too many vagaries in the sentence, not only regarding the source, but in the reference to "the Mormon church's genealogy business." One could be a little more specific on the actual entity doing the bidding.

But notice where I made the statement; it was on the FriendFeed comment stream for Gray's post, which meant that I had already read Gray's denial of the story before making the comment. If I had seen Klein's post and not seen anything else, I'd like to think that I would have made a similar statement at the time...but I can't guarantee it.

In essence, the Bigfoot, John Edwards, and Mormon stories all shared one attribute - they all initially relied on a single source of questionable reliability. Until further information was provided, no one authoritatively knew which of these stories were true, and which were not. (Yes, Gray and Jesse Stay had a sneaking suspicion that the Facebook story was fake, but inasmuch as they are not privy to the inner discussions of the LDS leadership, there was a theoretical chance that the story might have been true.)

In the end, the only difference between the three is that one was right and the other two were wrong. As long as a blogger - or a journalist - states the source of his or her story, as far as I'm concerned the blogger has done what needed to be done. Editorializing on the likelihood that the story is true is optional.

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