But almost no one did his homework on this story. Why? Because people accepted as fact a narrative that fit their own prejudices. A conservative angry that his fellow conservatives were being labeled as racists looked for vindication by blaming the accusers for their own brand of racism. An administration that views the Fox News Channel and conservative activists as the source of its decline in public approval tried to get ahead of a negative story by firing the subject of the story. And the liberal media blame Fox for provoking the firing even though it didn't use the story until after the administration had already pulled the plug on Sherrod.
In fact, according to Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz, a senior vice president at Fox News sent out e-mails to news staff before any story ran, warning: "Let's take our time and get the facts straight on this story. Can we get confirmation and comments from Sherrod before going on-air. Let's make sure we do this right." But Sherrod's forced resignation rendered the warning moot.
In the days before the 24-hour news cycle and the instant dissemination of information on the Internet, reporters had time to check their facts and sources. They may have had the same prejudices they do today, but those prejudices didn't find immediate outlets, and there were editors insisting that facts be checked and sources corroborated. But in the free-for-all world of blogs and the politically polarized world of cable news, scooping a story often seems to matter more than its accuracy.
We'd all be a lot better off if we took a deep breath next time a sensational story hits the airwaves or Internet. A healthy skepticism of stories that are too good to be true when it comes to confirming our own prejudices would do all of us a world of good. Not all the good guys are on our side, nor all the villains on our opponents'.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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