Remember when I demonstrated the laziness and gullibility of some journalists by showing that a Procter & Gamble front group, posing as an independent research “foundation,” had repeatedly hoodwinked major news outlets into running bogus stories about a “new” “scientific” “study” showing that redheads are going extinct — and the reporters didn’t catch it, even though the “new” study had been described in virtually identical terms (presumably copied from press releases) by media reports in January 2007, November 2006, March 2006, May 2005, August 2004, March 2004 and November 2003?
Well, it seems the same thing can happen with more significant news stories, like bogus reports of decapitated bodies in Iraq. On three separate occasions now, major media outlets (specifically, the AP, Reuters and the New York Times) have credulously parroted thinly sourced reports of gruesome mass beheadings near Baghdad, only to learn that nothing of the sort occurred. It’s a blatant propaganda effort by extremists hoping to incite more sectarian violence, and the MSM is falling for it — hook, line and sinker. Repeatedly.
Reporting from a war zone is hard, as NBC’s Karl Bostic noted in his blog post about the second of the three “bogus bodies” incidents last year. No question about that. And there’s lots of gruesome violence in Iraq these days, so reports of mass beheadings aren’t inherently unbelievable. But neither of those realities make it excusable to pass off unconfirmed urban legends and/or insurgent propaganda as news, especially when the very same reporters would doubtless cringe at the thought of treating their own government’s official statements with anything other than a healthy dose of skepticism. As well they should — but healthy skepticism (not to be confused with cynicism, of course) should apply to all sources of information, not just the ones associated with the Bush Administration.
Independent confirmation: learn it, live it, love it.