Wednesday, September 1, 2010

WP Sports Twit Mike Wise: You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Ben RoethlisbergerImage by Jeffrey Beall via FlickrWashington Post sports writer/columnist Mike Wise's ignoble online journalism experiment blew up in his face this week, resulting in a one-month suspension.

Testing his hypothesis that "anyone will print anything," the columnist Monday tweeted from his Mike Wiseguy account: "Roethlisberger will get five games, I'm told." For those of you who do not stay abreast of NFL scandals, the reference was to the severity of the penalty that may be imposed on Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, whom the league is expected to suspend based on allegations by a 20-year-old coed that he sexually assaulted her in a Georgia nightclub.

According to an account by Washington Post colleague, media critic Howard Kurtz, Wise fabricated the quote, which purportedly he intended to admit five minutes after sending  the tweet, but his Twitter account allegedly froze for about 40 minutes, unbeknownst to Wise, who was participating in his radio talk show on WJFK-FM. Ah, the drawbacks of multi-tasking.  His subsequent jokey tweet that the source of his Roethlisberger story was "a casino employee in Lake Tahoe," came too late, as numerous Web sites, such as The Miami Herald and NBC's ProFootballTalk, picked up the initial message, attributing it to Wise.

Wise sent an apologetic tweet, but his superiors at the Washington Post were not in a forgiving mood. Noting that the faux news scoop compromised the impartial news judgment that WP editorial staffers profess to have, management levied the one-month suspension.

Lost in the kerfuffle of the admittedly non-life-changing football news story is that Wise's instincts may have been faulty, but his premise was correct--people will print anything they see on the Web without doing the required journalism legwork.  "TUOL" is keeping its fingers crossed that The Washington Post and The New York Times' accounts of l'affaire Wise are not part of an early elaborate April Fool's ruse.
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