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Erik Wemple
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Posted at 12:57 PM ET, 08/24/2011

Fox News and the tilting Washington Monument

Give Megyn Kelly credit for communicating gravitas in the aftermath of the earthquake. Yesterday afternoon on Fox News, she reported:

“They are concerned that the Washington Monument may be tilting.”

Then she slowed down a bit and said:

“They are concerned that the Washington Monument may be tilting.”

Blockbuster, huh?

So who is “they”? Engineers with the National Park Service? White House officials who’ve been briefed on the teetering national symbol?

Nope — for this most momentous of scoops on D.C.’s federal core, Fox News was relying on the words of some “D.C. police officer.”

Here’s the whole spiel, as it issued from Kelly:

One extraordinary comment from this D.C. police officer to our producer — this is just a one-liner but apparently he told our producer that they are concerned that the Washington Monument may be tilting. They are concerned that the Washington Monument may be tilting. That’s all I have ... a one line of that.”

Extraordinary for sure. Perhaps even extraordinary enough to merit checking before broadcasting. Especially considering that it came from a “D.C. police officer.” Assuming that’s a member of the city’s Metropolitan Police Department, such an officer has no expertise, jurisdiction, or business commenting on the structural integrity of any obelisk in this town.

So what did Fox do to investigate the claim? Did it do any checking whatsoever? A spokesperson for the network declined to answer specific questions. A producer for the network says that the issue will be addressed today on Kelly’s America Live program, which starts at 1 p.m. The National Park Service and the Metropolitan Police Department didn’t respond to inquiries before posting time.

The Fox report triggered lots of political humor about the direction in which the monument was tilting. The Park Service proceeded to knock down the speculation, stating that there was “absolutely no damage” to the obelisk. It later revealed that there appeared to be some cracks at the very top of the monument — but no tilt.

An entertaining and cowardly coda to the story comes via this FoxNews.com story. Here’s the lead:

After reports of the Washington Monument possibly leaning due to a 5.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Virginia Tuesday, the National Park Services has revealed an inspection found cracks in the stones at the top of the Monument.

“Reports,” huh? As if every media outlet had been banging this particular drum.

Bill Line, a spokesman with the National Park Service, says he knows of no outlet other than Fox that pushed the tilt. And he says Fox never contacted the Park Service before putting out its rumor. “We never received a phone call from Fox asking us about that,” he says. “I learned about it on their Web site.” Asks Line: “Wouldn’t it be incumbent on a news organization to check out the facts?” People called into the Park Service worried about the possibly unstable Washington Monument, says Line. “We said the information is wrong .... We told them the Washington Monument is closed, but that’s not the same thing as it’s tilting.”

By  |  12:57 PM ET, 08/24/2011

 
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