Many Get Edwards ‘Scoop’ Wrong — Based on Single Source

By: E&P Staff

Mark Twain’s famous adage about a lie traveling halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its boots proved revelant again today when many news oulets incorrectly reported that former Sen. John Edwards would be suspending his campaign for president due to his wife’s new bout with cancer.

Outlets falling for it ranged from MSNBC to the Washington Times, which headlined its story “Report: Edwards Suspending Campaigning.” This appeared shortly before his scheduled noon announcement. The Los Angeles Times and Newsday were among many others which also headlined the “suspension” on their sites.

The source for many of the reports was a blog item on The author, Ben Smith, later admitted it was based on a single source and he apologized.

But another source was Reuters, which also had utilized a single source. ABC News’ web site, among others, picked it up after 11 a.m. The Washington Post site carried the Reuters item with the headline: “Edwards to suspend presidential campaign: source.”

The Reuters dispatch, datelined Chapel Hill, N.C., began: “Democrat John Edwards is suspending his U.S. presidential campaign, and may drop out completely because his wife has suffered a recurrence of the cancer that sickened her in 2004, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, a Democratic source said on Thursday. ‘He is going to be ending or suspending his campaign,’ said the Democratic source in Iowa, adding Edwards had alerted some supporters in the state of his decision. ‘The big mystery seems to be how serious Elizabeth’s illness is.'”

C.W. Nevius, a blogger at, tweaked the media performance with the headline: “The Story May Have Been Incorrect, But We Had it First.”

When Newsday corrected its story, it explained: “Early Thursday, a person close to Edwards told Newsday that the former North Carolina senator was choosing between suspending his campaign or abandoning his effort altogether. But his campaign later denied the story and Edwards told reporters he hadn’t ‘seriously’ considered quitting.”

The New York Times this afternoon described it this way: “In the hours before the announcement, there had been widespread speculation that Mr. Edwards would suspend his campaign today or withdraw entirely. A few news outlets and political web sites carried what proved to be incorrect reports to that effect before the Edwardses spoke in North Carolina.

“So Mr. Edwards?s announcement that he would remain in the race surprised some political insiders, and word of it was relayed quickly across Capitol Hill, with aides telegraphing the news by Blackberry to their bosses. Others crowded around televisions in the House and the Senate, watching Mrs. Edwards speak.”

Smith posted on his blog:

“A single, confident source close to John Edwards told me this morning that Edwards was “suspending his campaign,” and I posted it to the blog at 11:06 this morning.

“My source, and I, were wrong.

“The source, whose anonymity I agreed to respect, spoke of the kind of grim prognosis Elizabeth Edwards herself just described hearing before a second round of tests came back. I trusted the source, somebody I’ve known for several years, and who has always been reliable.

“And with less than an hour before Edwards was to announce, I unwisely wrote the item without getting a second source. When the campaign pushed back harder than I’d expected, I added that information to the original item, but that doesn’t undo the damage.

“My apologies to our readers for passing on bad information.”

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