That left plenty of media organizations, including this one, scrambling to correct their earlier reports and pondering how they got this one wrong. Before it was corrected by mid-morning, the Trump-endorses-Gingrich line was reported by the Associated Press, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Politico, The Washington Post (in an AP story), and CNN (citing local “affiliates”), as well as local media outlets in Nevada, which holds its Republican caucuses Saturday.
How did they get it wrong? Unlike the premature reports of Joe Paterno’s death last month, which were predicated on a student news organization’s faulty sourcing, the Trump-Gingrich story had what appeared to be a reasonably solid basis. News outlets cited unidentified sources within the Gingrich campaign for the story, standard practice in much political reporting.
In other words, it seems the messengers got some bum messages from a person, or people, who thought they knew more than they did.
“The fact so many different news outlets ‘confirmed’ this [Wednesday] night suggests to me there was more than one mistaken source in the Gingrich campaign and that they were led to believe they would be getting Trump’s endorsement,” New York Times reporter Trip Gabriel wrote in an e-mail. Gabriel was among those who reported the endorsement-that-wasn’t.
The problem, as journalists know, is that a single source can be wrong. Which is why reporters are supposed to turn to additional sources to corroborate what they’ve heard from their first source.
In this case, several news outlets apparently didn’t do that. Gingrich’s spokesman R.C. Hammond had no comment Wednesday night when reporters began querying him about Trump’s intentions. There was also no official comment from Romney’s camp. That should have been a warning sign to do more reporting or steer clear of the story, several reporters said.
“I think some sources thought they knew more than they really did know,” said John Harris, Politico’s editor. “Our reporters, your reporters and other people doing this are smart and work damn hard and they navigate these kinds of things every day. We ask our sources how they know what they know is true. In this case, someone who might ordinarily be in a position to know didn’t know what they were talking about.”
AP’s Washington bureau chief Sally Buzbee said the story of Trump endorsing Gingrich “was an accurate account at the time. Clearly, events changed, and our [follow-up story] outlines that in great detail.” AP reported early Thursday that Trump intended to endorse Romney, citing “three Republican officials.”