The hostage-taker is ... oops, never mind
Anyone teaching, concerned about or even mildly interested media ethics needs to print out the "Troy Stanley" thread on the Huffington Post.
Stanley was a person identified early as the possible hostage-taker at the Hillary Clinton campaign office in Rochester, N.H.
The Huffington Post, partly taking its cues from Fox News and partly from its own "Off the Bus" reporter, kept beating the Stanley drum. Some selected headlines and excerpts:
Then, at 5:53 p.m. comes this:
3:55 p.m. - Troy Stanley's Voice Mail Recording
Huffington Post tried calling Rochester, NH resident Troy Stanley today at 3:50. The phone picks up after just one ring and the caller hears, "Hello? (pause) hello? (pause) hello (pause). Leave a message. Later. (Beep)
Troy Stanley is the alleged hostage taker at one of Hillary Clinton's NH campaign headquarters.
3:59 p.m. - Troy Allen Stanley, Alleged Hillary Hostage Suspect, Arrested Earlier This Month
Troy Alan Stanley, the man alleged to have taken Hillary Clinton's Rochester, New Hampshire office hostage earlier today, has a rap sheet.
Earlier this month, on November 6, he was "arrested on a bench warrant for disorderly conduct." Stanley is 44 years old.
(Hmmm, "alleged ... suspect." Could they be any more squirrely?)
4 p.m. - Troy Stanley Charged With Criminal Trespass and Obstructing Governement Administration, August 2007
4:06 p.m. - Troy Stanley, Alleged Hillary Hostage Suspect, Arrested in September
(Another "alleged ... suspect.")
4:12 p.m. - Troy Stanley Jr Identifies His Dad
From Fox: We were told by an eyewitness that the suspect is named Troy Stanley. The eyewitness reporting this to Fox News is Cody Bennet. Cody Bennet is friends with Troy Stanley's son, Troy Stanley Jr. According to Troy Stanley Jr, his father went to a hardware story earlier in the day and bought road side flares to use as fake explosive devices.
(Now there's some strong sourcing, huh?)
4:28 p.m. - Troy Stanley: Marital And Financial Troubles, But a "Tremendous" Man Says Friend
5:06 p.m. - Troy Stanley Has Been Sleeping In The Woods
5:10 p.m. - Troy Stanley: Tales From His Neighbors
Huffington Post is getting eye witness accounts saying the alleged hostage taker Troy Stanley recently made a cross out of duct tape and put it up. He was evicted this morning from his apartment complex. Neighbors who did not wish to give their names told an Off the Bus reporter Bryan Bissell:
"You can hear him preaching to himself through the wall."
"You'll hear him at four in the morning going off on himself every morning."
"He runs his water 24 hours a day in his apartment," said a downstairs neighbor whose apartment flooded.
OTB Bryan Bissell went to Troy Stanley's apartment, where Mr. Stanley opened the door. He then began talking about the Kennedy assassination.
Those last two posts came after Huffington Post reported at 4:58 that CNN reported that the hostage-taker might actually be a man named Leeland Eisenberg.
5:23 p.m. - Troy Stanley's Ex-Wife: Stanley "Diagnosed Paranoid Schizophrenic" Not Taking His Meds
At 5:16, Carl Cameron of Fox News said he spoke to Troy Stanley's ex-wife of 20 years, who reported that Stanley is "a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic who has not been taking his meds." His medicinal regimen includes lithium, but he has not been taking it recently.
Troy Stanley Not Suspect In Hillary Clinton Hostage Incident
OffTheBus correspondent Bryan Bissell has confirmed that Troy Stanley Sr., previously associated with taking hostages at Hillary Clinton's Rochester office, is not connected with the incident.
Contacted at his residence at Sofield Apartments, Mr. Stanley, Sr. confirmed his identity and declined further comment. A call to police verified that Mr. Stanley was not a suspect.
(But wait, what about that update to the 5:10 post. Do you mean to say your crack reporter talked to all the neighbors and only then did he knock on Stanley's door? One assumes that had he done that first, and had he seen Mr. Stanley, it would have been fairly easy to conclude that Mr. Stanley was not a suspect, since his being in two places at once was unlikely.
6:40 p.m. - Leeland Eisenberg, Alleged Hillary Hostage Suspect, Taken Into Custody
See photos of the alleged suspect Leeland Eisenberg being taken into custody by police officers.
(And, of course, there's that "alleged suspect" again. He's a suspect or he isn't. Alleged has no place there.)
At 8:05 p.m. Huffington Post had the cheekiness to put up this: Fox News: We Report (The Names Of Two People), You Decide (Who Is Actually The Suspect)
The HuffPo, of course, takes no responsibility for sucking the teet of Fox and spreading the crap, and even augmenting it with its own reports.
In fact, it almost takes credit for breaking that the suspect was NOT Troy Stanley: "This news broke around 5:50 pm on HuffPo, CNN, E&P and Fox News ..."
Except, of course, for the inconvenient fact, as noted above, that the HuffPo's own thread shows that it had CNN's reporting that it was someone else as early as 4:58 p.m. and still kept piling on Stanley.
Most of the 8:05 post chides Fox for getting this all wrong, including still having a wrong "super" up with Stanley's name.
Not-so-secretly, I wish Stanley could sue Fox and HuffPo back to the stone age over this. For many reasons, it probably won't happen. But it should serve as a widely publicized lesson over how this age of instant communication, where the "echo chamber" effect is becoming more and more prominent in the era of instant news, the dangers grow.
No, I am not of the school that says blogs and such instant media should be shut down or heavily curtailed. Even if I did support it, that genie is already long gone from the bottle, and no attempt to put it back in will work. It's so much useless hand-wringing.
About the only thing that will work for this kind of irresponsibility is wide public shame and unrelenting emphasis on ethics, caution and common sense as we help shape the minds and values of young journalists. In an era where the pressure to get it fast and first continues to grow, this will be harder and harder (and yes, I purposefully left out "get it right" from that phrase).
So I challenge all of you to make sure this disgrace is widely publicized and studied. If you need a PDF of the post thread, I have it and will gladly share. I leave you with the comment of one person responding to the HuffPo's "Fox News" item:
I know you want to shift all the blame onto Fox News, but you know what guys?Who says our readers don't know more than we do?
You are partly responsible for publicly humiliating a man. It was pretty disgusting what you guys participated in. Maybe you didn't start it, but you're not excused. You really should take some credit and apologize in some fashion.
Just as the Main Stream media should apologize for helping contribute to the lead up to the war and shaping public opinion in favor of it.
I hope that you don't take their path, and try to pretend you had nothing to do with it.