I was growling at my iPhone on the train this morning as I read a prominently promoted New York Times story about the rumored Chelsea Clinton wedding that didn’t happen. Sixth graph:
The persistence of the rumor despite the lack of tangible evidence says something about today’s free-for-all Internet media culture, where facts sometimes don’t get in the way of a good story. It also says something about the Clintons and the mistrust they have engendered over the years that so many people do not take them at their word, even over a question like this.
It’s bad enough that the reporter, Peter Baker, made two such gross generalizations but it’s worse that there was no backup for either in the story.
Who spread the rumor according to Mr. Baker? Here’s every attribution in his story:
* “The wedding rumor mill got started by the Boston Globe…”
* “Then New York magazine picked up the ball…”
* “In July, the New York Daily News said…”
* “’There is no truth to that,’ Mrs. Clinton said on Fox News…”
* “The Washington Post reported…”
* “The Post followed up…”
* “On Sunday, the New York Post reported…”
* “The New York Post concluded…”
I don’t see a damned thing about “internet media culture” there, do you? Not one snarky, unreliable, rumor-mongering, content-stealing, value-sucking blog. Nope, not one mention of Gawker. Just big, old newspapers and magazines. Indeed, the only refutation of the rumor – the fact-checking of it – appears to have been on Fox News. (I also saw no editor asked whether they continued to spread the rumor because they didn’t trust the Clintons.)
This is the sort of internet bigotry that pops up in The Times like clockwork.
Mind you, The Times as a whole is doing lots of innovative things online: The Local (in which CUNY is involved), its blogs, its twittering, its API – plenty to praise.
Yet this snarling about the internet still bubbles up from the newsroom, from reporters and from the many editors who choose to publish it. That’s the newsroom culture – as opposed to that damned internet media culture – you keep hearing about as an impediment to change. This is how newsrooms fight it, using the one weapon they have: the keyboard. They may be forced to blog and podcast but they can always get their revenge in print. Good, old, comforting – though unsubstantiated, rumor-mongering, never-let-the-facts-stand-in-the-way-of-a-good-story – print.