D.R.: Tall tales from Rumorville
The phone call was typically obnoxious. “Why don’t you report the news … !?”
This time the caller was sure the Vail Daily was covering up news of a jail breakout. Some bald guy had escaped Sunday and was busy raping women while free ” supposedly. Why don’t you report THAT! You never report the good stuff.
Well, I guess not. Especially when it’s not true. A small obstacle, to be sure. No one broke out of the county jail Sunday. No bald rapists that we know of are running around looking for fresh victims while on the lam.
No “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” brought to real life to break the routine.
Sometimes the smug insult is followed by a tip that proves out, though almost invariably it’s not nearly as exciting as the rumor. And usually it’s some rather wild fantasy that rivals TV, or an editorial opinion best put in a letter to the editor, or good luck proving it with the limits of journalism.
The discipline relies on primary sources, people who stand by their information or comments with their name, authentic documents, and so on.
The caller didn’t see the bald guy. He wasn’t a witness to a rape or in fact know anyone who was. He didn’t actually even know if there had been a bald guy in jail, never mind whether he broke out.
He heard a story, told second- or third-hand, and bought it. I could almost hear the hook in his mouth as he spoke. Naturally, there was no call-back number in case he had a real tip that we could trace to an actual witness.
This call was funny because it was so obviously another rumor run amok. It’s the more subtle ones that drive you batty. The allegations of backroom deals, spoken with great confidence if no real knowledge.
The authorities sometimes do hold back on information. There really are backroom deals on occasion. And far, far more often, people let their imagination get away from them and share their speculations as if facts, and listeners over the fence often buy them.
Listen, if the Nigerian money scams still trick people, you know the bald rapist running amok after his breakout might just panic you enough to call the newspaper and complain bitterly about “news” they’ve missed.
Yes, newspapers are never the fine-mesh nets some seem to expect. But the accusation underlying the caller’s hollering ” that we’d collude with authorities to hide news that would be both important and fascinating ” that’s even more off than the simple fact that his rumor was wrong.
Are you kidding? Papers are so desperate for readers they’d tell you all about Britney Spears’ fashion, er, adventures and Paris Hilton’s escapades if they think they’ll get an extra eyeball on their work.
I think we’d kill to get the story of the bald guy striking terror in Eagle. If only it were true. …
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