Jay Rosen coined a term to describe the basic attitude of our professional journalism and commentary class, the Cult of the Savvy. Rosen:
“In politics, our journalists believe, it is better to be savvy than it is to be honest or correct on the facts. It’s better to be savvy than it is to be just, good, fair, decent, strictly lawful, civilized, sincere, thoughtful or humane. Savviness is what journalists admire in others. Savvy is what they themselves dearly wish to be. (And to be unsavvy is far worse than being wrong.) #
Savviness is that quality of being shrewd, practical, hyper-informed, perceptive, ironic, “with it,” and unsentimental in all things political.”
Today, dozens of journalists and hundreds of their followers were effortlessly rolled by an unverified Twitter account that compared conservative moron Ammon Bundy to beloved Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks. A bunch of predictable pieces got posted; a thousand outraged tweets were sent into the wild. And all without anyone bothering to consider the fact that any random person can start a Twitter account. One journalist — one– bothered to actually check the facts. MSNBC’s Tony Dokoupil, who’s on the ground at the site in question, asked Bundy, and Bundy said the Twitter account is not real. The account also posted while Bundy was chatting with journalists. Dokoupil actually did his job. Meanwhile, a ton of people who base their whole self-conception on the idea that they are savvier and smarter than everyone else got played for fools, because the narrative played so perfectly into their assumptions.
To be clear: it’s not really that the account is fake. Hell, it could turn out to be real, or under his direction, somehow, although that looks unlikely. Or he could turn around and say, “I didn’t Tweet that, but really, it’s true.” But that’s not the point. It’s that nobody bothered to check. It’s that dozens or hundreds of people whose fundamental responsibility is to find out the facts didn’t bother to investigate any facts at all. I’d love to tell you that this is all just funny, but democracy doesn’t work without a functioning media, and ours is deeply broken right now, and yet many of its members can’t even bring themselves to apologize when they get it wrong.
Here’s the dishonor roll:
- The Washington Post
- The Chicago Tribune, reprinting the WaPo piece
- Salon, which compounded the sin by running the most shit-eating non-apology in the history of journalism corrections (Update: Salon’s original correction, verbatim: “UPDATED: It turns out the tweet was from a hoax account, but given the fact that these geniuses were previously pleading with the public to send them the snacks they forget to pack, the error is understandable.”)
- The New Republic
- Talking Points Memo, since corrected
- USA Today
- The Root
- The New York Daily News
I’m sure there are more.