Public Eye
March 22, 2007 3:30 PM

Don't Believe The Hype: John Edwards Doesn't Suspend Campaign

(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
At 11:43 this morning, I received an email message with this subject line: "CBSNews.com News Alert! Edwards To Suspend Campaign Due To Wife's Cancer."

The body of the email sourced the claim to CBS News partner The Politico. In addition to sending the email alert, CBS News made the news the lead story on the Web site, where it was also sourced to The Politico.

We now know that the report was wrong: John Edwards is staying in the presidential race despite the fact that his wife's cancer has reemerged. The Politico's Ben Smith first claimed that Edwards would drop out in a blog post at 11:06. He has now posted an apology.

According to Smith, a single, anonymous source, whom Smith has known for years and whom he trusts, told him that Edwards was "suspending his campaign" this morning.

"…with less than an hour before Edwards was to announce, I unwisely wrote the item without getting a second source," wrote Smith. "When the campaign pushed back harder than I'd expected, I added that information to the original item, but that doesn't undo the damage. My apologies to our readers for passing on bad information."

I asked CBSNews.com Senior Political Editor (and former Public Eye editor) Vaughn Ververs about CBS News' handling of the story.

"We sourced the story correctly to Politico reporting," said Ververs. "But, while The Politico is an editorial partner of CBSNews.com, we should not have run breaking news of this nature that had not been independently verified by CBS News and will be careful not do so in the future."

The larger question here is this: Why rush out a story like this at all, especially as the press conference was less than an hour away? Is the bump in traffic really worth risking not getting it right?

"Something that's so basic but is often forgotten in the rush of working on a story - journalists often feel like 'I've gotta go with what I've got,'" Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, told me in an earlier interview. "But no one ever benefited themselves by going with something that turned out to be wrong."
Tags:
john edwards ,
politico ,
Vaughn Ververs ,
Tom Rosenstiel
Topics:
CBS News Issues


Add a Comment
by ronmwanga March 24, 2007 2:20 AM EDT
And an ever more rapid breaking news cycle every day, cktirumalai.
Reply to this comment
by cktirumalai March 23, 2007 12:42 PM EDT
An Oxford classical scholar from two centuries ago is best remembered for his advice to academics just starting out, "Always verify your references." That said, a news reporter deals not with the distant past but the unfolding present. And it should not come as a surprise if occasionally (very rarely, one hopes) excitement over what seems to be breaking news gets the better of him.
Reply to this comment
by jjnels March 23, 2007 11:17 AM EDT
Well this looks like the second mistake by politico in a week, because I think it was politico that originally reported last week that Gonzalez was already on his way out as AG. This doesn't really look good at all in terms of making CBS look like a trustworthy source of political news, and hopefully CBS will learn to do their own reporting and verifying and not just rely on unreliable others to do it for them.
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by dallasman999 March 23, 2007 1:56 AM EDT
This story of continued perserverence of political aspirations astounds me. How can you perservere anything when your loved one is possibly on her deathbed? This story really stirs a bad feeling in me and questions the fact as what is more important? Your family, your friends, or your constituates, or furthering your occupation? Second, how can you give 100 percent of your unbridled effort if you have a family member suffering from a physical ailment? This motivation fails to succeed as our main principals of political motivational favortism.
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by ronmwanga March 23, 2007 1:36 AM EDT
We're still working out these things as we go along. Ben Smith is a marvelous reporter, and we can't be too hard on him; he's only human and his explanation is solid, although the report wasn't. VV is right on: "while The Politico is an editorial partner of CBSNews.com, we should not have run breaking news of this nature that had not been independently verified by CBS News and will be careful not do so in the future."

The reputation -- and resources -- of CBS News should be such that it can confirm (and possibly further flesh out) the reports of it's partner, The Politico, which, until today, was hitting grand slams. What The Politico gives lends to the partnership by way of speed and scoop, CBS News seals the deal by annointing the stories with airtight sourcing.
Reply to this comment
by one_american March 22, 2007 7:02 PM EDT
A bit of navel-gazing, CBS?

You only seem to perform this exercise when you are dealing with a Democrat who was incorrectly reported on.

But it's good practice for your soul, anyway.
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