Following up on P.J. Gladnick's NewsBusters story about reports of non-existent neo-Nazi "patrols" in Sanford, Fla. in response to potential racial violence there, ABC News.com's Candace Smith apparently hasn't gotten the memo that there are no such patrols going on. As Gladnick reported two days ago, Professor William Jacobson of the Legal Insurrection blog did the legwork that reporters like Smith are supposed to do. Get this -- he e-mailed the Sanford Police Department and simply asked them if there were indeed neo-Nazis patrolling the streets of Sanford. "No confirmed reports" was the reply. Jacobson then -- get this -- followed up by asking the police if they just weren't yet aware of any patrols: There was "no indication" of any such patrols, the Sanford police responded.
Yet ABC News.com reports today (my emphasis):
In Sanford, where the shooting took place, the specter of racism is ubiquitous.
A group of armed neo-Nazis from the National Socialist Movement have descended upon the town, touting their intention to patrol the town to protect whites against a race riot.
"We are not the type of white people who are going to be walked all over," Commander Jeff Schoep of the National Socialist Movement told The Miami NewTimes.
While this doesn't state that the neo-Nazis are presently "patrolling" Sanford's streets -- merely "touting their intention to" do so -- how difficult is it to get a confirmation from the town's authorities? This is three days after Jacobson took just the smallest bit of effort to send his e-mails. How is it that a part-time blogger can check out this information, but a reporter from one of the largest news organizations in the country cannot? Would it take Professor Jacobson personally contacting every news outlet that reported on this story to get a revision? It took just that with regards to the NY Daily News: First, the paper revised its online story, and then subsequently revised its headline. But, it kept the same URL for its story despite the changed headline. As the professor notes,
Completely substituting one post for another, while using the original url for both, had the effect of washing out a key part of the story here: The irresponsible spread of racially charged rumors in an already racially tense situation by a well-known print and web publication.
I would have preferred a mea culpa together with a correction.
A very good point.