Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Hall of Mirrors

My morning paper had a story in its "People" section that began:

Weird. Bizarre. Outlandish. There simply are no words to express the singularly surreal nature of this report: Michael Jackson is about to become a father again. Us Weekly magazine reports (citing unnamed sources, natch) that Jackson, who is due to go on trial in his child molestation case Sept. 13, is expecting four (yeah, that's four) babies.

OK, so the paper's citing a report based on unidentified (not unnamed; I'm betting they all have names) sources in a magazine. Sadly, not all that unusual these days.
It then quotes Jackson's spokesman as saying the report is not true. So far, acceptable, if a tad tawdry.

But then we have this: No word on the woman carrying the quadruplets, except that she lives in Florida, where Us says Jackson has visited her.

What happened to the idea of the woman reportedly carrying the babies? You've got a report based on unidentified sources and a very identified spokesman saying it's not true. Have we become so cynical as to discount the spokesman entirely and not indicate there is some doubt?

But wait, there's more: Meanwhile, USA Today says that the National Enquirer reports the woman is a former Prince groupie who was chosen to be the surrogate mom after she wrote Jackson a fan letter.

So let me get this right: We have what is likely a wire-service report (my paper does not bother to indicate) quoting a paper that's quoting another paper with no indication as to sourcing, etc.

Was there an editor somewhere along this chain? Maybe it all turns out to be true, but is there any doubt why people question our credibility?

Weird. Bizarre. Outlandish, indeed. Welcome to journalism's Hall of Mirrors.


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