Monday, November 19, 2007

Does Anyone Else See the Elephant in the Room?

According to the article “Making News, Without Saying a Word” The Associated Press ran a news article about Paris Hilton’s supposed desire to publicize the plight of elephants in northeastern India. Only later they found that the quotes and the linking of Hilton to the story were completely falsified. The article noted that “as journalistic blunders go, it wasn’t quite up there with Dewey Defeats Truman” but it was still a horrific error.

While it is a fact that elephants are getting drunk on farmers’ homemade rice beer, then going on rampages, it is not true that Hilton made any statements about the issue at all. She was quoted as telling reporters that:

The elephants get drunk all the time. It is becoming really dangerous. We need to stop making alcohol available to them.

The quote showed up in numerous places after The Associated Press ran their article. An A.P. spokesman said that they received the quotes from a highly regarded reporter who inappropriately lifted the quote from the World Entertainment News Network Web site without waiting for verification. Upon further investigation, the World Entertainment News said they got the quotation from Daily Star, a British tabloid.

The Associated Press hastily withdrew the article shortly after releasing it but the damage was already done. Hilton’s publicist stated that “this is just another example of people putting words in Paris’ mouth.” She went on to say that quotations shouldn’t be lifted from anywhere without verifying them.

While I always knew that people were often misquoted or their quote was misrepresented, I never thought that The Associated Press would make such a mistake as to not verify the quote at all. Even though they pulled the story the story immediately it doesn’t detract from the fact that they screwed up, big time. The fact that the quote actually came from a tabloid, best known for their gossip, and made it all the way into a news article circulated by The Associated Press is both astonishing and scary. To think that someone could completely fabricate a story and have it turn into factual news makes me wonder what we will hear in the future. One can only hope that news organizations will learn from this blunder and check their sources more thoroughly, before running a story.

No comments: