Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fact Checking

A story buzzed around the internet yesterday quoting Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as saying that he would have dissented from the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling in 1954. I saw the story myself but it just didn’t make any sense; I know Justice Scalia is a strict constructionist, but come on, and I didn’t post about it. A lot of other bloggers and news organizations, though, did run with it, including Keith Olbermann on Countdown. It turns out that Mr. Scalia was misquoted by the local paper that originally ran the story and they have since corrected it. For the record, Justice Scalia believes Brown vs. Board of Education was correctly decided. (And I’m not going to go all Rush Limbaugh and say that even if it’s not true, we know he thinks it.)

As Alex Koppelman at Salon.com says, everybody occasionally gets a story wrong. But even in this day and age of over-the-top stuff, we do have a wealth of information sources and it’s still a good idea to actually have as much proof — say, a video of the actual statement — before you run with it. That applies to all of the media, not just the blogosphere. After all, the story ran in a respected newspaper and was reported by a professional reporter. AS JB notes at Balkinization,

Mainstream media often berate blogs for lax standards, but if they wish to do so they had better make sure they have adhered to professional standards. I mean, if the New York Times is going to report false and misleading claims about weapons of mass destruction (just to take a hypothetical example that would never happen in real life), whose fault is it, the Times or the blogosphere that it repeats the stories?

I try to be as accurate as possible in what gets posted here, and I hope that if I make a mistake, either on my own or by repeating someone else’s factual error, I will correct it and apologize. And I hope that the blogs who repeated the incorrect story will do the same.