Attack of the Poorly Sourced Piranhas

As a twist on the old saying goes, reports of my firing have been greatly exaggerated.

Or else they were just flat out wrong. But why let facts get in the way of a good story?

On Friday I took a day off. Vacation and comp days aren’t exactly a strange phenomenon. But Rebecca Schoenkopf, publisher of Wonkette who has been known for reporting and writing while on the sauce, and for making no sense whatsoever, on Friday published a story saying that “a source” had told her I was going to be fired. “Betsy out at Fishbowl as of this afternoon,” she posted on her site. Rebecca didn’t spell this out, but her “source” was a guy makes it his business to pass around a bogus naked Craiglist ad of one of my writers.

This is the kind of “sourcing” Schoenkopf (pictured at right) used to write her “story” Friday afternoon. Schoenkopf never called or wrote me to ask if it was true. She never even called my employer until her story was out and clunking across Twitter like an elephant with severely bruised shins. There’s nothing worse in journalism than being sloppy and wrong.

Regular reporters took awhile to give the “news” any merit. Meanwhile, some on Twitter called Rebecca “powerful” in that she could make something happen that well, wasn’t happening. And oh boy, there was Mediaite‘s “White House” Correspondent Tommy “Carl Berstein Jr.” Christopher hot on the case. He called. I never answer his calls. He wrote, “Betsy, I just got a tip that said you’re leaving FBDC as of this afternoon. Is that true?” I asked to go off record. He said OK. I wrote him back, “No, Tommy. Not true. I know it’s unheard of, but I’m just taking a simple day off. I do get vacation and sick days. Do you?” Like an eager porpoise, he promised to write me back and fill me in if he heard anything more. Gee, thanks Tommy! How kind of you to inform me on my own life via a man who creates phony X-rated Craigslist ads. What no preachy trial race reporting today? Oh, that’s right. His editors scolded him a few weeks back on his George Zimmerman “coverage” and told him to tone it down. Bernstein Jr. really muckraked on this one. He phoned and emailed my coworkers, who, of course, had nothing for him. Good work Tommy!

Next up to the plate: Washington City Paper‘s Will Sommer. Sommer wrote, “Hey Betsy, So, people are saying you’ve been ousted at Fishbowl. Any truth to that? I’m getting it from the same guy who sends around photoshopped nude pics of one of your writers, so I’m not sure how seriously to take it. Thanks.” I also requested to go off record with him. He agreed. I told him I was taking the day off. Sommer did not write a story.

The last of The Three Stooges… Ben Freed, wrote next, writing, “Betsy, I am trying to either verify or disprove this Wonkette story. Are you still the editor of FishbowlDC? Ben.” I didn’t bother to get back to Freed (who was no doubt panting over the “news”). Of everyone who wrote, Sommer was actually the kindest. He told me to enjoy my day off and said he was craving one too. I told him I’d be spending the day relaxing and breathing. I think one day we might show each other our sticker collections.

About an hour after he initially wrote, Tommy got back in touch to say he was going ahead with his story and could I give him something to use either on record or on background? I was a little surprised in that I’d already explained why I wasn’t working that day. But this is Tommy. So a story doesn’t need to be one to write it. I didn’t reply as I had nothing new to say. No matter the truth, no matter that I’d already told him, Tommy whipped up his story, more than hinting and insinuating that who knows if I’d been fired or not?

Just like The Three Stooges, they were all crashing into one another, bumbling and stumbling over their stellar reporting skills. It was embarrassing for them really, but at this point how could they stop themselves? Schoenkopf. Bernstein Jr. Freed. They were on such a reporting roll. Schoenkoph ultimately updated her story with the truth after finally contacting my employer.

Later in the day Romenesko and Poynter also checked in with my employer in Manhattan, who confirmed that no, I wasn’t being fired.

Needless to say, Romenesko and Poynter are professionals. They did not write stories.

I am not linking to the stories that were written. There’s Google if you want to actually spend time looking up poorly reported stories.