Fox and the Hounds

So did Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) really call himself a finely manicured metrosexual while branding his presidential rival as a cowboy? Fox (NYSE: FOX  ) definitely had its hands full over the weekend when it had to pull a fake story attributed to longtime political reporter Carl Cameron.

This isn't a story about fraudulent journalism, though. When reporters like Stephen Glass and TheNew York Times' (NYSE: NYT  ) Jayson Blair got busted for fibbing their way through dozens of stories, those were clearly deliberate attempts at deceiving the public. Cameron was simply having a little electoral fun, and it found its way onto the active website. Whether his scripted piece was leaked accidentally or intentionally, it was obviously not going to fool anyone with its prolific misquotes.

With its "we report, you decide" slogan, perhaps it was Fox simply putting its mantra to the test. But, again, this isn't a story about fraudulent journalism. It's a story about how powerful the Internet has become.

Last month, Sportsline.com (Nasdaq: SPLN  ) issued a humbling apology when it reported that Washington Redskins' running back Clinton Portis was injured and would be out of gridiron action for several weeks. As a fantasy football haven, even though the bogus report was up for all of five minutes, it was enough to create an uproar.

As eyeball magnets, websites have to balance the need to provide timely content with the importance of getting it right the first time. While the Internet offers something that traditional print media can't -- the opportunity for an immediate retraction or correction -- the fact that flubs can be widely disseminated also makes temporary mistakes permanent to those who aren't privy to the eventual edits.

Does that mean that you must now approach every Internet report with some degree of skepticism? What? You weren't doing just that already? We're all human. Mistakes will happen. Due diligence isn't just for stock market research. Mind your P's and cuticles. Don't be a data cowboy.

Has TV political content broken into your fall season viewing habits? What are you watching these days? Will you give Fox News the benefit of the doubt? All this and more in the TV Banter discussion board.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz didn't own Portis in either of his two fantasy football leagues -- nor did he try to take advantage of the bogus story by trying to deal for him on the cheap. He does not own shares in the companies mentioned in this story.


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