The great thing about the internet is that information spreads quickly. The shitty thing about the internet is that information spreads quickly.
Here's an example that highlights that paradox...
Blockbuster news, no doubt. Ellis included this bit of reportage:
And according to one Justice official, each of those actions was coordinated with help from Homeland Security, the FBI and other federal police agencies.
It didn't take long for this story to travel at the speed of light through the ether. In short order, we had numerous diaries here highlighting Ellis' story and proclaiming that Obama and company were behind the near-simultaneous crackdowns on Occupy protesters in numerous cities:
- Homeland Security, FBI, Others Advise US Conf Mayors Coordinated Occupy Crackdowns (Note that the diarist later added a question mark at the end of this diary headline. No such question mark was there when it was first posted.)
- Good news about the Federally "coordinated" crackdown: NYC, Albany, Portland, Oakland
- Obama OK's use of force in Occupy crackdowns :(
- You've lost me, Mr. President., a diary that included this:I have come to learn that many of these crackdowns on OWS encampments have been guided and aided by the Department of Homeland Security. YOUR Department of Homeland Security.
A quick perusal of the comments in these diaries reveals a string of conspiracy theory-style posts linking the Patriot Act, Obama, Holder, Homeland Security and the FBI to the crackdowns on OWS encampments across the country.
Of course, in real journalism circles, such a highly-charged bit of news would require a second, confirming source. While none was forthcoming from Mr. Ellis -- and since no other media outlets confirmed Mr. Ellis' story -- one could be left wondering whether or not this claim was true. (Not that the truthfulness of the charge mattered to many who had already made up their minds that Obama, Holder, Homeland Security and the FBI were behind the crackdowns.)
Finally! Along comes a second source! Triumphantly, Mr. Ellis posts a new story with the headline:
Michael Moore! On Olbermann's show! Claiming the crackdown was being coordinated by the federal government and Obama's Justice Department! There's the second source!
Mr. Ellis' short piece on Moore's confirmation of the story reads thusly:
Author and documentary filmmaker Michael Moore appeared on Current TV's "Countdown With Keith Olbermann" Tuesday evening and argued the federal government had a hand in the recent waves of crackdowns on "Occupy" movements nationwide.
"This was not some coincidence, this was planned," he told Olbermann.
Video of the entire interview is included in this story.
And a number of folks here ran with it, citing Moore's comments as confirmation of Ellis' story.
Of course there was one eensy-weensy, teeny-tiny fact that both Mr. Ellis and the others who cited Moore's backing of the claim failed to mention...
Moore cited Ellis' piece as his source for the claim that the federal government was helping plan the crackdowns.
MOORE: Well, there was just a piece that came out from The Minneapolis Examiner a couple hours ago, where they quote a justice official in the Obama Justice Department who did not want to be identified, but he said that the federal government has been providing logistical and tactical advice and support.
They said that it’s up to the local law enforcement officers or agencies as to what, you know, what to do. But Homeland Security and the Justice Department have been coordinating the, sort of, advice and strategy and tactics of this so that — because you have seen all of the tactics of the police have been the same in every city in terms of how they have done this in the last 48 hours. So, this is not some coincidence. This was planned. And I think that the question really has to be asked of the federal government, and of the Obama administration — why?
And there we have the classic internet Circle Jerk of Attribution™, where a single source for a story is reinforced by a second source citing that original single source as a source.
I have written on this topic of poorly-sourced, sensationalist stories before, noting how even respected bloggers can be sucked into the Circle Jerk of Attribution™ based on the flimsiest of sources and end up promoting highly-charged stories that may not be true.
Certainly, we can question why the Obama administration has not leaned on these local governments to back off OWS protesters. That's a legitimate discussion and there is plenty of room to criticize the administration's laissez-faire attitude toward the violence and destruction being wreaked on protesters by militarized police forces.
But as of this writing, not one other news outlet has confirmed Ellis' story, And neither has Ellis, despite his claims to be searching for confirmation.
A strict rule at Daily Kos is that we don't traffic in conspiracy theories. In fact, many posters have been banned from here for doing so. The diaries on Mr. Ellis' claim, and many of the comments contained within those diaries, read like a freerepublic post on how Obama is busy building FEMA camps to house Tea Party members after Holder confiscates their guns.
Needless to say, I was surprised when a poster here who is a staff member at Daily Kos recommended these diaries that were based on a very flimsy source at best and a rumor at worst, and even defended Mr. Ellis as a credible reporter. I asked this staffer if he knew more about Mr. Ellis than what was listed in Ellis' online bio at examiner.com, which, while citing actual journalistic credentials, didn't appear to be particularly impressive:
Rick Ellis has more than a decade's experience in online local news and nearly twenty years experience as a journalist. Beginning at the Chicago Tribune, he has worked for a variety of news outlets, including Patch/AOL, Yahoo and Internet Broadcasting. While he was the managing editor of NBC13.com, the web site won a regional Murrow Award for best big market news site.
I never received an answer from the Dkos staffer. But, as I noted above, any one of us can become a "reporter" at examiner.com by simply signing up. There are no editors. There is no one to check your work. You simply choose the topic you wish to "report" on and -- Voila! -- you're a reporter!
My purpose in writing this diary isn't to defend Obama. (Lord knows, he has disappointed most of us here, me included.) Nor is my purpose to undercut OWS, a movement I support and will continue to support. Rather, my purpose is to demand from ourselves the same things we so often demand from others, be they politicians, members of the media or even crazy Tea Party freaks: Be reality-based.
We at Daily Kos pride ourselves on being "reality-based," but, in fact, we're human. And we leap to massive, unfounded conclusions based on the skimpiest of evidence because the conclusions fit our worldviews.
Simply put, before we leap to conclusions, let's make sure we know what we're talking about.
6:46 PM PT: And now you can witness The Circle Jerk of Attribution™ live, in real time!
I love Horace. He's been doing a helluva' great job covering OWS from every angle. But he cites a Juan Cole piece that cites a Wonkette piece that cites the examiner.com piece and declares that the "smoking gun" has been found! (Wonkette also throws in the AP link that calls attention to the mayors' conference call but makes no mention of federal intervention.)