Rand Paul Running in 2016: A Cautionary Tale of Knee-Jerk Journalism

For Rand Paul (R-Ky.) supporters, there was likely a brief surge of excitement when headlines appeared on Google News that the senator was officially running in the 2016 presidential race based off what looked like a candidate filing with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

The news that Rand Paul was running for president wasn’t a big surprise. Politicos have anticipated it for months now. The biggest surprise was the timing. New York Times reported in February that Rand Paul would likely announce his intentions in April. Reuters also reported an April date on Wednesday. It was a big story to run with since that would make Paul the first high-profile candidate to enter the 2016 race.

However, whatever feeling of excitement supporters felt quickly evaporated when it was revealed that Rand Paul didn’t actually file with the FEC. The FEC filing reported by a couple of media sites, including CNBC and the Washington Examiner, was an old ID page created in 2013 after a Super PAC filed an independent report declaring their support for a Rand Paul 2016 bid.

There are a few lessons to take away from this:

1. Always substantiate sources. There were likely websites who ran on this story based on what other websites reported. In the corrected versions of the story, some news sites suggested that the story had been widely reported though only a small handful of news sites actually ran with the story. This may suggest that the reporter of the story ran on it based on what they read from another website.

2. Always look closely at any source used for a story. The source used for the Rand Paul filing story was a legitimate source. It is an actual page on FEC.gov (see below). However, notice the red text that says, “See Filings Tab for document images.” There are no document images under the tab. Candidate ID pages usually have at least a PDF of the documents submitted by the candidate.

rand-paul-fec

3. Avoid knee-jerk reporting. One of the biggest problems with contemporary “journalism” is that many media outlets, including major mainstream sources, have adopted the practice of report first, substantiate later.

This is not an isolated incident of media malpractice. It happens often and with much bigger stories with bigger implications. People have been falsely identified as terrorists responsible for domestic attacks or suspects in mass shootings because of this approach to “journalism.”

Media outlets often rely more on speculation and poorly-researched information to run with a story because the prevailing attitude is, “Well, if it is wrong, we can just retract it later.”

Modern, mainstream journalism is not about getting the story right; it is about being the first to report it. Unfortunately, this is how false information spreads and — in the age of social media — once false information is out there, it is out there for good.

Photo Source: AP