Saturday, December 16, 2017
Politics

Inaccurate news travels fast on social media and beyond

The premature reports of the death of U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young on Thursday afternoon again showed the perils of political reporting in the age of Twitter.

Peter Schorsch, a St. Petersburg blogger and political consultant, first posted news of Young's death on Twitter at 1:34 p.m. — "A relative of Congressman C.W. Bill Young tells me the iconic Republican lawmaker has passed away." NBC's Luke Russert followed with an unattributed tweet a few minutes later.

The posts sent newsrooms in Washington, New York and St. Petersburg scrambling.

But it wasn't until 2:04 p.m., 30 minutes after Schorsch's initial post, that Times political editor Adam C. Smith confirmed that Young was alive. (Young died Friday evening, his spokesman said.)

What happened in those 30 minutes Thursday?

At least three members of Congress, Billy Long of Missouri, Eric Swalwell of California and Dan Kildee of Michigan, offered their condolences to Young's family.

"Very saddened to learn of the passing of Rep. Bill Young of Florida — the perfect Gentleman — our thoughts and prayers go out to his family," Long wrote in a post that was later deleted.

The news also carried from social media to mainstream media. Fox News Radio broke the news of Young's death about 2 p.m. Thursday. We found the news carried on radio markets in Memphis, Kansas City, Dallas, New Jersey and Baltimore.

On the Fox News Channel, host Gretchen Carlson reported Young's death about 2:05 p.m., after finishing an interview with Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Both reports were later corrected.

It's not the first time that Twitter has hurt the credibility of journalists. It's also not the first time rumors of Young's death gained traction. In 2011, Young had to personally dispel the notion he had died.

On Friday night, Times Washington Bureau Chief Alex Leary tweeted at 7:14 p.m.: U.S. Rep C.W. Bill Young died at 6:50 pm, his spokesman said. "The cause of death was complications related to a chronic injury."

Curry talks politics

Republican Party of Florida chairman Lenny Curry talks about the problems in Washington and the race for governor today on Political Connections on Bay News 9 at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Curry's biggest job next year is to try and get Gov. Rick Scott re-elected, which means likely besting Democrat Charlie Crist.

Curry offered tough words for Crist.

"Once he's an announced candidate, if he's an announced candidate the Republican Party will make sure people understand we lost 830,000-plus jobs on his watch," Curry said.

"This man is unfit to govern. He's got a history that would demonstrate that he's not a leader."

Questions for Rubio

Speaking of the Sunday talk-show circuit, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio will get a chance to explain his vote against re-opening the government on Fox News Sunday (9 a.m., Fox).

Host Chris Wallace previewed the interview.

"He's one of 18 Republicans who voted against this compromise to re-open the government and raise the debt ceiling," Wallace said. "We will talk to him about that, talk to him whether he is willing to go through this all again, talk to him about the Obamacare rollout."

Crafting a budget deal

Florida Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson will have a seat on the 28-member congressional group charged with negotiating a long-term budget deal by Dec. 13.

"The way I see this, every member of Congress has a responsibility to put aside partisan political differences in favor of finding common-sense solutions," said Nelson, a member of the Finance and Budget committees.

Baxley apologizes

Florida state Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, apologized Friday for comments he made a week earlier in which he described a family with "two mommies" as dysfunctional.

During a House education committee meeting Oct. 11, Baxley said that simply getting parents involved in a child's education isn't always going to work because parents can be part of the problem.

To drive home the point, he recalled a conversation he had with a teacher.

"I sat an hour and a half with a teacher telling me, 'Well this child has got serial men coming through the house, this one has two mommies, this one has an abusive father who's home, this one has alcoholism, this one has drug abuse.' It was a casualty warfare event to hear — just her classroom. How many dysfunctional, atypical … structures are in the way of a kid having a chance to learn."

On Friday, after Equality Florida demanded an apology, Baxley offered one.

"I am very sorry anyone was offended. It certainly is not my desire to disparage anyone," he said. "The context on the open discussion which turned to 'parental involvement' was to recount a teacher's challenges expressed to me and to express my encouragement to teachers who often provide the stabilizing place for many students who come to school with many life challenges."

Times staff writers Tia Mitchell and Alex Leary contributed to this week's Buzz.

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