Did you hear Bristol Palin, daughter of one-time vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, is moving to the Grand Canyon State to attend the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University? Chris Callahan, the dean of the Cronkite School, sure did, and he says it aint happenin' -- as far as he knows, anyway.
Callahan's using the rumor -- debunked by Arizona Republic reporter John Faherty -- as a lesson for the soon-to-be (assuming there are any jobs left) journalistos currently attending the Cronkite School.
In case you missed it, over the weekend, TMZ speculated that Palin bought a house in Maricopa in order to attend the Cronkite School. The Washington Post picked up on the bogus rumor -- as did the Huffington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and hundreds of other news sites out there on the interwebs. None of the aforementioned publications bothered to call the university to ask whether it was true, which, Callahan says, it's not.
Note: New Times didn't take the bait -- in part because Bristol Palin's about as interesting as watching paint dry. Callahan's message to students, however, is a bit more valuable than a rumor about an abstinence (ahem) expert/ reality TV star.
In an email to students and faculty, Callahan says Palin is not enrolled in -- nor has she applied to -- ASU.
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The gist of the rest of Callahan's message to students: pick up the damn phone.
See part of Callahan's email below:
How this report started - and how it was fueled by the established news media - is instructive for our students.
The "news" started with a 171-word story posted by TMZ.com, the celebrity gossip website. Under the headline "Bristol's College Decision - Signs Point to Devils," TMZ said that "Bristol Palin is telling friends she may enroll at an Arizona college."
That's it in terms of "reporting," but the writer went on to speculate. He/she wrote that while there was no "official word," that there were "a few major clues" where she might attend. It went on to note that Ms. Palin had purchased a home "just miles from the Arizona State University school of broadcasting."
While we know there is no school of broadcasting at ASU, the writer meant the Cronkite School. And why might Ms. Palin be interested in Cronkite? Because, the writer notes, "Bristol has an interest in public speaking." That's quite a leap of logic, but not as large as the geographic leap.
It is true that Ms. Palin's new home in the town of Maricopa is "just miles" from Cronkite, in the same way that it also is "just miles" from USC, Northwestern and Columbia. In fact her new home is 36 miles from the downtown campus - a 45-minute drive without traffic down the I-10 - in Pinal County.
With the TMZ report, predictably, other gossip sites, Tweeters and bloggers picked up the story. But also within hours major news outlets began going with the Bristol-to-ASU story. USA Today, picking up the "just miles from ASU" part of the TMZ story, said "TMZ reports she may be thinking of enrolling there." The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal ran the story yesterday.
Callahan notes that the only news outlet that actually contacted the school was the Arizona Republic, which, in turn, was the only publication to get the story right. He also directed students to a story he wrote nine years ago published in the American Journalism Review titled Anatomy of an Urban Legend about how "rumors take on a life of their own in cyber-space." Check it out here.