It appears that journalists are now too lazy to make up their own stories and are filing reports based on Facebook memes.
The Story of a Non-Story
How a bunch of media outlets got their coverage of an obscure Massachusetts bill really, really wrong.
An excerpt from this article: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/blog/2014/03/24/non-story-massachusetts-divorce-sex-in-house-bill/
This lengthy and meandering tale is ultimately about nothing, but along the way might prove instructive for anyone wondering why so many people walk around with their heads filled with a vast, expanding trove of untrue nonsense.
I begin at the end—or, more accurately, at the point when I stopped merely rolling my eyes at this episode and wanted to start strangling people. That point was Sunday afternoon, when a news item appeared on Boston.com, declaring that Republican Richard Ross of Wrentham has filed a bill to prohibit someone who is going through a divorce from having sex in his or her own home.
As I began writing this Monday morning, that article (written by a Boston.com staffer with a Globe.com email address, and with a Globe Newspaper Company copyright, for whatever that currently means) offered no source, citation, link, or hint of any kind suggesting that it was cribbed from someone else’s reporting—it appears, as written, to be the original discovery of reporter Jack Pickell. That would be some mighty coincidence, that he stumbled upon the same obscure, dormant bill that had by chance been repeatedly posted about and spread across the internet for the previous 48 hours.
In fact, the original version of Pickell’s story did reference and link to a BostInno article posted Friday afternoon. When someone sent an email to Pickell alerting him of an error he had inserted while lifting the item, Pickell corrected the mistake, but also removed the BostInno reference and link. (Clarification: I did not intend to imply that Boston.com removed the link to BostInno deliberately to avoid giving credit. Also, I should not have used the word “lifted,” which implies something stronger than I intended.)
Boston.com is hardly alone, however, in offering no indication of prior origin of the story. BostInno provides no clue that I can find for its discovery, although its post appeared, surely not by coincidence, a few hours after the first report that caused me to eyeroll as it crossed my Twitter feed around midday Friday. Three days later and no hint of provenance accompanied the reporting of the story early Monday morning on MSNBC, in between items on Nate Silver’s Senate predictions and Jimmy Kimmel’s interview with the Clinton family.
Before continuing back toward the story’s point of origin, I want to clear up some things about the bill that can be misunderstood by those who make no effort to determine whether they are understanding them correctly.
Contrary to what you might gather from phrases such as “proposed by state Senator Richard Ross,” “Senator Richard J. Ross proposed,” and “If Massachusetts State Sen. Richard J. Ross gets his way,” Ross did not sponsor the bill, and he does not support it. In fact, the bill has no legislative sponsors, no support, and is in no way under consideration by anybody.
The bill was submitted under the Commonwealth’s “right of free petition” by Robert LeClair, an 83-year-old former Wrentham selectman of strong opinions, who was president for years of an organization devoted to fathers and custody rights. Massachusetts, with its nearly 400-year devotion to self-governance, populist energy, and participatory citizenship—many towns still decide things by show of hands at meetings open to all residents—is unsurprisingly one of the few states that offers its citizens a direct avenue to submit legislation for consideration. The only barrier is that a state legislator must actually file the paperwork, but that does not constitute or indicate sponsorship, support, or approval. From what I gather checking around with some current and former staffers, many legislators aren’t even aware that they are allowed to deny a citizen petition request; others are aware but choose a blanket policy of approving all constituents who petition. “Whenever I receive a bill from a citizen, I will file the bill,” state senator Will Brownsberger, co-chairman of the Joint Judiciary Committee, tells me. “I don’t think that most legislators see themselves as a gateway for those.”
To do otherwise would be dumb politics as well as a thumb in old John Adams’s eye. These petitions—a bunch of which get dropped every two years before the session’s January filing deadline—are usually brought by people with exceptional zeal and energy for an idea that they can’t find anyone on Beacon Hill to support. So, there’s no possibility that filing the bill could somehow accidentally lead to its passage, but significant likelihood that the petitioner could be a real pain in the ass to a hometown rep who refused to honor the people’s sacred right to petition their government.
Nevertheless, some—including Ross, according to the reporter who got this all going (and who we’ll get to below)—might pick and choose which to file, based on some standard of merit. That’s problematic: It could imply considered support of those chosen over those rejected, which is exactly the case being made by some, including Ross’s Democratic challenger Dylan Hayre, after Ross’s office made clear that he merely filed the petition for LeClair but does not support it.
Not that the misperception of Ross’s support is even close to catching up with the erroneous reports. As I am finishing this post around noon, Boston.com has added a correction noting, without explanation, that the article failed to mention that Ross filed the bill by request. Other reports have continued to pile up all morning; some, like FoxBoston, are passing along Ross’s insistence that he doesn’t support the bill (he put out a release this morning, as I wrote this post); others not so much, as with a Reason.com piece blaming Ross for this “particularly egregious example of politicians’ overreach and arrogance.”
On the grand scale of legislative proposals, concern about a spouse exposing children to adulterous behavior in their home is not a particularly looney tunes idea. Adultery remains illegal in many states, after all. More relevantly, it’s not uncommon in divorce proceedings for the spouse who has moved out—usually the husband—to ask the judge to prohibit the other spouse, pending finalization of the divorce, from bringing dates home and/or having them spend the night when the kids are there. Some father’s-rights advocates in the Commonwealth believe that Massachusetts judges are far more likely than those elsewhere to deny such requests, because as secular liberal Harvard elitists they are unbothered by (I’m paraphrasing here) someone’s wife whoring around, in his bed, in the house he’s paying for, in front of his kids. LeClair’s bill would restore balance by setting the default to “no whoring around,” and placing the burden on the wife to get the judge to issue an exemption.
That is not exactly LeClair’s argument, to be fair. He believes, rightly or wrongly, that his bill would reduce domestic violence—the topic of a book he has recently finished writing, and hopes to shop to a publisher. “A male seeing another male in his house, with his wife, in front of his kids,” is likely to end badly, LeClair says.
Read the rest HERE