Bias in favour of the hot story

Here’s one of the more percpetive comments about Rathergate (I continue to use the stupid term for the pure hysteria of it!) that I’ve come across. From David Shaw at the LA Times:

I think he wasn’t as good — as careful, as thorough, as demanding — for several reasons. The most important may be that his gut instincts and his previous reporting had convinced him that the essence of the story was true — that Bush had indeed received preferential treatment in the National Guard.

With documents that seemed to support this view, available after a long hunt, in the heat of a presidential campaign, Rather thought he had a good, juicy story, one that would have a major impact. Knowing that other news organizations were pursuing the same story, he didn’t want to risk being beaten.

Those incentives — those, if you will, biases, a bias in favor of a good story and a bias in favor of being first — kept him from being as vigilant as he should have been.

Every experienced journalist knows there’s nothing more dangerous than the story that you think is true, that you want to be true, that you know the competition is breathing down your neck on. That’s when your natural skepticism and your good judgment tend to waver. That’s when you have to pull back, take a deep breath and say: “Wait a minute. Let’s be extra careful here. Let’s be sure we’re right.”

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