Want to improve trust in the media?  Do a Basic Fact Check.

Want to improve trust in the media? Do a Basic Fact Check.

Photo illustration by Erin O'Flynn/The Daily Beast/Getty

Photo illustration by Erin O’Flynn/The Daily Beast/Getty

You’d think we’d know. Too often, when a scandalous claim that fits the liberal media narrative comes up, he tweets first and asks questions later. Predictably, this approach has been known to backfire.

The most recent example comes from Brigham Young University (BYU), where a fan allegedly hurled a racial slur at a Duke volleyball player in late August.

The only problem? One of BYU’s student newspapers was unable to confirm the claim, and a subsequent BYU investigation that used “all available video and audio recordings, including security footage and raw footage” found zero evidence to support the charge.

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But for many mainstream media outlets with huge audiences, it was a story that was too good to check. The claim was repeated as fact by The Washington Post, Sports Illustratedand CNN, among others.

Action (and reaction) was quick.

The fan, who allegedly “shouted a racial slur at a black volleyball player” was banned from BYU athletic facilities — before the university conducted its investigation. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox tweeted that “as a society we must do more to create an atmosphere where racist a-holes like this will never feel comfortable attacking others” (the tweet has since been deleted). basketball star LeBron James tweeted his support for the alleged victim. And the University of South Carolina women’s basketball team canceled games against BYU in response to the allegation.

But after BYU completed an investigation that reportedly interviewed more than 50 witnesses (plus all the video and audio evidence), it couldn’t confirm the claim — at all. The banned fan, described by a witness as “mentally challenged”, received an apology from the university and his ban was lifted. Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, the news of the research finding has received much less coverage.

But this is far from the only example of a media outlet with a history of making outrageous claims without doing the slightest bit of vetting.

One can see the Duke Lacrosse scandal, the Jussie Smollett hate crime hoax, and Covington’s false Catholic story (to name just a few examples) as evidence of the mainstream media’s tendency to believe (and promote) narratives that they go along with their assumptions about good guys and bad guys.

Despite the embarrassing results, there is little reason to believe that anyone will be punished for not doing basic journalism. Instead of thinking about why these mistakes are made, on Friday, The Washington Post wrote a piece explaining how BYU’s history of racism explains why the story went viral. Awesome.

What happened to talking with sources and watching the video? How about expressing a healthy skepticism Any source making an explosive claim? Why did a conservative student newspaper do the rudimentary reporting that dozens of professional journalists chose not to do?

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Some of that certainly has to do with the rise of social media and the “shoot from the hip” style of journalism that garners clicks and ratings these days. The old journalism saying, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out,” has been superseded by Ricky Bobby’s saying, “If you’re not first, you’re last.” Some stories are too good to be verified, and this is especially true of stories that confirm a popular media narrative. Rinse and repeat.

It is worth noting that this phenomenon is not exclusive to liberals in the mainstream media. Conservative media outlets are just as likely to fall victim to confirmation bias.

A fairly recent example was the NYPD’s Shake Shack hoax. In case you missed it, during the George Floyd protests in the summer of 2020, police unions promoted a story that police officers were intentionally poisoned by Shake Shack workers and started vomiting. Upon closer inspection, the cops never got sick, the shakes were ordered on an app (so there was no way anyone would know they were ordered by the police), and the shake machines had just been cleaned (but obviously not rinsed out).

Ultimately, a police investigation determined that “there was no criminality,” but not before the mainstream media (and yes, Fox News is a mainstream outlet) credibly reported the allegation.

Fox & Friends led a section that claimed police officers had been “poisoned” and called it a “horrific attack”. Prominent rightists tweeted that the police it was “deliberately poisoned with bleach.” And another prominent (but redundant) right-wing blog wrote that “the left is killing our cops.”

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Other examples of conservative confirmation bias include the unsubstantiated claim by some Fox News personalities that former DNC staffer Seth Rich leaked thousands of emails to WikiLeaks before he was shot on a Washington, DC street, stories about police officers falling into comas after exposure in fentanyl and the alleged murder of Kate Steinjle by an undocumented immigrant. (And it goes without saying that reports of the “stolen” 2020 election, insofar as they proceed credibly, are the product of a similar “too good to check” ethos.)

It’s human nature to want to believe that bad people do bad things, and in today’s polarized world, someone from the other “race” is automatically assumed to be “bad people.” Instead, someone of your own race must be believed reflexively, without debate. As a result, too many journalists often don’t do basic vetting of stories before they hit the airwaves.

This negatively affects trust in the media – which, you may have heard, is at an all-time low (and falling further every day). Furthermore, by pushing stories that later blow up in their faces, ideologically motivated journalists undermine their own cause.

The point of professionalism and institutions like the media is to overcome this nature. We, the fourth estate, are failing spectacularly.

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