Carville targeted in Internet hoax p.12

By: Joe Strupp Phony wife-beating story posted
on Web, aired by radio station

An erroneous Internet report claiming political consultant James Carville had been arrested for allegedly
beating his wife, conservative commentator Mary Matalin, not only drew public rebukes from the celebrated couple, but also
raises concerns about how false news can spread online.
"I find it quite amazing even in the age of the Internet that something so outlandish could spread so quickly," says Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz, who reported on the hoax last week. "It was a sophisticated hoax in that the person who wrote it knows how to write a basic news story."
Carville, the outspoken former campaign manager for President Clinton, says he couldn't believe that the phony report spread so quickly.
"I was surprised at the amount of gossip it got," Carville said during a phone interview. "I think this whole Internet thing brings out the worst in bad people."
The false report first surfaced Jan. 20 on the Web as a story that had supposedly originated from "The Montgomery County Ledger," a newspaper that does not exist. The story carried a Rockville, Md., dateline and a byline for someone named Lee Canular. The piece was posted to at least one news group that follows media coverage of Clinton.
The story falsely stated that Carville had been taken into custody by Rockville police on Jan. 18 after allegedly firing a gun into a sofa, sticking a knife into a wall and physically abusing Matalin in the couple's home.
Rockville police chief Terrance Treschuk says the story has no basis in fact but brought a deluge of phone calls from media outlets across the country seeking information. "We got 30 to 35 calls from as far away as California and Idaho," says Treschuk, who heads the 45-officer police force. "It's ab-solutely false. I guess there are just vicious people out there."
The Montgomery Journal, the 30,000-circulation daily newspaper that covers Rockville and the surrounding region, also received numerous phone calls from readers and Internet surfers who caught the report and wanted to know why the Journal hadn't reported it. "People were just wondering if it was true and what happened.," says Lisa Nevans, the Journal's projects editor.
Nevans says Carville and Matalin don't even live in Rockville, but are residents of a Virginia suburb.
Both The Washington Post and the Journal published stories in their Jan. 22 editions on the hoax, which included denials from police. Neither newspaper reported that the arrest had occurred.
But The American Family Radio, a Christian activist network broadcasting to 25 states, incorrectly aired the story, before quickly retracting it on Jan. 21.
American Family Radio officials declined to comment on the incident.
Carville says he doesn't know if he can catch the perpetrators and, if he does find them, what action may be taken.
"We are in the process of ascertaining what can be done," Carville says.
Professor Walter Effros of American University Law School, who has written about Internet legal issues, says finding and prosecuting the story's author could prove difficult.
"The overwhelming lesson from this is that a reputation is hard to protect online," Effros said.
?(Editor& Publisher Web Site: http://www.mediainfo. com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher January 30, 1999) [Caption]


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