Sloppy journalism

Memo to CNN and any other news outlet or journalist tempted to repeat "details" without checking:

A reference this morning to Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers’ volunteer work for a group called Exodus Ministries left some people — including journalists — leaping to conclusions and assumptions. A few minutes ago,  CNN anchor Kyra Phillips said she heard on NPR and from "a number of people" that Miers was involved with the Exodus Ministries that says gay people can go straight with the help of Jesus. Even when her guest, constitutional law expert David Oblon, suggested she was talking about the wrong group — that Miers volunteered for a similarly named group in Dallas helping ex-convicts — she insisted on talking about how this might affect rulings on gay issues and Oblon actually started to talk about how "if it’s true that she was supporting the ex-gays, well, that tells you a little bit about her."

Actually, the whole thing tells me a lot more about the people making these statements. If you don’t know, don’t speculate. Find the answer. Don’t assume something you hear is gospel. Check it out. In this case, while they were babbling, I managed to find the right web site for Orlando-based Exodus International, where a press release clearly states:

"Harriet Miers, nominee
for the U.S. Supreme Court, served on the board of directors of Exodus Ministry in East Dallas, an organization that assists ex-offenders in finding jobs and places to live. The organization is in not
related to Exodus International, the world’s largest educational and informational outreach dealing with homosexuality
." (The emphasis is theirs, not mine.)

This is not rocket science. I’ve been part of covering the nomination of a justice — Clarence Thomas worked in Missouri and had strong ties here, which made me part of the Time team looking into his background. If we’d gone around mentioning every piece of information we heard or came across without checking it a lot of misinformation would have been in the public record.

The ability to send words around the globe instantly via digits or satellite doesn’t mean you have to cut corners. If anything, it means you should be even more careful.

Coda: Find out more about the Exodus Ministries where Miers did volunteer.

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