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A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on

At 9 a.m. yesterday, Prof. Peter Tague of Georgetown Law School told his class not to mention it to anyone, but that Chief Justice John Roberts was about to announce his retirement from the court because the pressure of the job was ruining his health. He did not say how he knew this.

At 9:10, the news of Roberts’ likely imminent retirement announcement was published as an exclusive on Radar Online.

One of the topics of Prof. Tague’s lecture that morning was the danger of relying on information when you do not know the source. Halfway through the lecture, Tague divulged that he had made up the Roberts rumor to illustrate his point.

By that time, according to Above the Law (which was quite proud of the fact that although it had heard the rumor, it had checked it out before publishing it) the news of Roberts imminent retirement had “spread like wildfire, triggering thousands of texts, blog posts, and emails.”

Radar Online retracted, but, to its partial credit, didn’t take down the original post. Above the Law has the full story in a post titled “Anatomy of a Rumor.”

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Ross Williams on 03/05/2010 - 11:22 am.

    “triggering thousands of texts, blog posts, and emails.”

    and news stories. The most effective distributors of unfounded rumors are the commercial newsrooms.

  2. Submitted by dan buechler on 03/05/2010 - 12:57 pm.

    Interesting how do we deal with this info overload fortunately there’s walking and art.

  3. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/05/2010 - 01:00 pm.

    Ross–
    Any support for that statement?
    A quick search didn’t come up with any mainstream media statements other than descriptions of the rumor process.
    Can you cite a major newspaper or network perpetuating the rumor?

  4. Submitted by dan buechler on 03/05/2010 - 01:08 pm.

    Well we always have Jes
    se V to set us right.

  5. Submitted by Hal Sanders on 03/05/2010 - 02:50 pm.

    Paul, I believe Ross was speaking of rumors in general, not this particular rumor. By the way, Erick, this is an interesting piece. Mark Twain would approve.

  6. Submitted by Hal Sanders on 03/05/2010 - 05:32 pm.

    In the above, make that “Eric.” I know better. As one of our former editors used to say, “Everyone needs an editor.”

  7. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 03/08/2010 - 09:47 am.

    Imagine what would happen if, rather than bloggers, e-mailers, and tweeters spreading things around, you had a political party injecting half truths, innuendos, and outright lies directly into the veins of an MSM which was either too understaffed or too lazy to investigate those items and entirely too inclined to broadcast the juiciest stories possible for the sake of ratings (whether true or not).

    Imagine if you had one cable news network working directly with and dedicated to endlessly repeating the truthy but largely false “talking points” of that same political party. Would the truth even have a chance?

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