Friday, January 18, 2013
Hey Steve Milton, don't throw out your notes
When the whole thing turned out to be a hoax, Sports Illustrated asked the journalist who had written about Te'o's loss to explain his fact checking process.
There was sort of one. Not the greatest. A lot of it was taking Te'o's word for it, and writing it off when attempts to verify Te'o's account with Lexis Nexus searches and other research came up with nothing (no accident report, no hospital records, no funeral notice). Another thing the reporter was unable to confirm was the dead girl's actual existence.
There were Te'o associates on campus who supported Te'o's account of the relationship. And at the end of the day, why would he make it up?
The story ran.
So the reporter spent about 5 days on the story beforehand. Looking back, there are holes in his fact checking, but at least a fact-checking attempt was made. Despite the tears of the football player and the passion of his pastor, and the supporting statements from those on campus, the reporter at least made some attempt at independent verification, although it wouldn't rise to the level of secondary sources.
But It wasn't like the figure skating media that ingests everything straight from Scott and Tessa's mouths and throws it up directly onto their keyboards.
House of Anansi Press paid Steve Milton to write a book with Scott and Tessa. This book didn't just transcribe Scott and Tessa's own words. It was also written in the voice of Milton. Milton didn't do any fact-checking. And Anansi didn't require any.
Although it's someone else's story, a professional will make sure the story he's paid to tell is true, and the words he writes in his own voice can be verified.
There's nothing terribly praiseworthy about the Sports Illustrated story proceding even though the reporter was unable to unearth corroborating evidence. But he didn't cover himself in complete shame. He actually DID do some research. He simply rationalized when his research came up with blanks.
Did Steve Milton research the "backlash, mostly on the internet" that he writes about as fact in his latest kneepads piece on Scott and Tessa? Did he research the rift when they told him about that?
The rift, remember, was the pivotal event of the book he wrote with Scott and Tessa. This rift didn't have a vague timeline. It had a specific timeline. Tessa had surgery in October 2008. She was back in Canton in December 2008. In between Tessa and Scott claim they were completely estranged, disengaged; they'd literally disconnected.
They didn't see each other. They were never in each other's company. They didn't talk. They didn't text.
Except for the fact that they did. All of this is easily checked with a simple google - forget subscriber-user database searches. On damn google. Bam - there's the Skate America interview from November 2008. There's the John LaBatte appearance. There's their Canadians 2009 free dance while the commentator (someone inarguably close to them) specifically describes the time they spent at Tessa's London apartment working on the program while she recovered.
So Steve Milton is a fiction writer? Did Scott and Tessa's book have the subtitle "based on their true story"? or "A fictionalization inspired by real events"?
When Steve Milton appeared at a couple of book signings with Scott and Tessa, did he notice she wasn't as slender through the middle, that her face was full, boobs bigger, hair thicker - that she was pregnant?
IOW is he a hack, a liar, a dupe, all three, or what?
What's going to happen when P.J. Kwong follows up with them? Is she going to substantiate what they say? She's on the web herself. She knows the sites. The internet isn't some amorphous uncharted mystery territory. It has URLS, screen names, indexes, forums, links all over the place, organized discussion, and the skating part of the web is very small, as Scott and Tessa are well aware seeing as how they have exploited that fact for years. If the backlash exists P.J. can find it over lunch.
Is she going to do a simple archive search to see where the backlash is? Is she going to ask them WHO told them there was one?
I think she's going to assume - or pretend to assume - they are honest. Which is not reporting. Which is not conveying accurate information. When Scott and Tessa drag third parties into their stories about themselves - in this case, the public - they can't be the only source on the things they are asserting. The evidence is available - free - for anyone writing about them to check out for themselves. Why doesn't anybody do it?
This vague shit about filtering isn't reporting. You don't become aware of something in the fucking atmosphere. You are told about it and someone with a name and or job tells you, or you read it yourself.
Where are these people who confuse fact and fiction? On what web page? Most internet users have user names. Which screen names are confusing fact and fiction? What Virtue Moir thread has fans insisting they're together because their on ice performances are so convincing?
What Scott and Tessa do is similar to what Chris Wallace did while interviewing former President Clinton some years back. Clinton agreed to the interview because they were going to talk about his work in Africa. Chris Wallace blindsided him by telling him that after the interview was announced, he'd received a bunch of emails demanding that Clinton be asked why he hadn't done more to stop Al Queda prior to 9/11.
Clinton, no fool, called him out and left Wallace a mewling sack of squirm in his interviewer's chair. Clinton knew there had been no influx of emails demanding Wallace ask Clinton about Al Queda. Wallace made it up as a pretext for promoting the Fox News storyline that Al Queda and 9/11 was Clinton's fault and not Bush's.
So, while figure skating is frivolous, and certainly everything out of Scott and Tessa's mouth is weightless, they do something similar. Make shit up about what the public is doing so they can talk about what they want to talk about.
However, it is the journalist's job to make sure what Scott and Tessa claim is happening actually is happening.
Again, it is not a time-consuming or complicated task to double-check the web pages and message boards where figure skating is discussed. Skate Canada does it every single day. (So Skate Canada also knows Scott and Tessa are lying.) It's not complicated to do simple logic and ask Scott and Tessa how they are so sure there is backlash when they simultaneously claim to be divorced from the internet. How did they come to have such a clear idea of what was being said?
P.J. Kwong has a responsibility to not simply say "Oh well, they must be getting it from somewhere" and move on.
Yes, they must be getting it from SOMEWHERE - so ask them WHERE. Stone up and get a real answer, not a vague filter crap one.
If someone like P.J. or these other "journalists" are too busy to fact check, then their only option is to put everything Scott and Tessa say in quotes. Their only story is that this is what Scott and Tessa say or claim. And that's IT. They have no right to use Scott and Tessa as the primary and only source on what a whole bunch of other people are doing and saying in a medium they don't even read. P.J. is busy. Fine. Then that's what she should do.
Scott and Tessa are not sources. They are subjects. I know the journalists kiss ass, are more uber fans than writers. They want to be liked by Scott and Tessa. They laugh and fawn. But they're not just writing about Scott and Tessa, they are writing now about what Scott and Tessa say about fans even though none of these reporters are able to produce a single piece of corroboration, nor have heard of the backlash til Scott and Tessa told them about it. Fans are actual people. And they've tightened the focus by saying fans "on the internet". The skating fandom operates in a small corner of the internet where they can be easily found and reviewed.
Scott and Tessa can say all the shit they want about themselves - unless of course there is evidence on the public record that they have just lied through their teeth - as there is about the rift. And of course, they charged money for that book and were paid by Anansi, so the fact that the book contains a central lie is extremely relevant information; it's not private or their version of themselves. It's an outright lie.
But nobody checked it. Fine. They damn well better check what Scott and Tessa say about their fans. That's a third party. That requires independent fact checking. Scott and Tessa told them where it existed - the internet. Go to the fucking internet and double check it, or shut up and don't report it as fact.
Media today is all about grabbing the eye. That's more important than careful research. But you can't have it both ways. If you want to get the headline out there fast and not support-the-story, then your story is "Scott and Tessa SAY this." That's your story. They can't become your subject as well as your source for factual declarations in the piece you write.