Thursday, May 25, 2006

ABC Gets Itself Sued?

(Hat tip: JBlogMeister)

Just hours after Democrats got a bit excited at the prospect of House Speaker Dennis Hastert being investigated in the probe against William Jefferson (D - LA), it turns out that the story may have been completely false. So false, in fact, that Hastert is considering a lawsuit against ABC:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - House Speaker Dennis Hastert might sue ABC News for libel and defamation for a news report that said he was "in the mix" in a corruption investigation, according to a letter sent by Hastert's lawyer on Thursday.

The letter from Hastert counsel J. Randolph Evans said statements in ABC's report constitute libel and defamation, and asked who could "accept service of process to remedy this intentional falsehood."

Citing anonymous law enforcement sources, ABC News reported on Wednesday that Hastert was under scrutiny in an FBI corruption investigation centered around former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

ABC updated its story later to say Hastert was not a formal "target" or "subject" of the investigation, but was "in the mix."

Hastert's spokesman called the story "absolutely untrue" and demanded a retraction, and the Justice Department said the story was wrong.

At the Capitol, Hastert told Reuters: "They made an accusation. The Justice Department denied it."
This is a continuing trend in reporting over the last few years: News media are jumping at stories, consistently basing themselves on anonymous sources, and then finding out later on that most of the story is in fact false. That the retractions and corrections usually go unnoticed is a seperate issue, as is the effect repeated false claims have no matter how clear the retractions are or how false they are proven.

How is it that media keep getting away with airing false stories? It is this jumping that will soon result in journalists being required to divulge sources on penalty of imprisonment on a consistent basis. Journalists have not been at all careful in what they report and how they verify it, and their assumption that people are covering up the real story will now get them in serious trouble. The Justice Department clearly stated the story was false - much as Verizon and AT&T did a week ago regarding the wiretap story. Did the reporter in this case not even ask the Justice Department? Obviously the Justice Department did not verify the story - did the reporter ask and get a denial? If so, why print it? If he or she did not ask, why not? Was getting the story out more important than verification?

Now, ABC might get sued. Assuming the story is false, as the Justice Department says, I hope they get sued and lose, and be required to pay huge fines. Perhaps journalists need a lesson in common sense and honesty.