Despite the blatantly misleading spin of O'Keefe, Burns, and the Breitbart websites, the local St. Louis media never pointed out the facts. Both KMOX and the Post-Dispatch covered the story, but neither bothered to fact-check the blatantly misleading claims from the O'Keefe/Breitbart crew, which could easily have been verified by asking the university for the specific policies. The Post-Dispatch does mention the university perspective, but presents it as a "one side says this, the other side says this" story rather than bothering to get the actual facts. Readers were not given an opportunity to come to an informed opinion about the incident, because they were not provided with the facts needed to do so.
But that was a while ago, at the beginning of the new era of right-wing smear jobs posing as "citizen journalism." Since that time, a number of things have happened that should discredit Breitbart's websites and James O'Keefe in the eyes of anyone who has the slightest concern for the truth. For example:
So given this clear track record of blatant dishonesty from the Breitbart and O'Keefe school of smearing, would any credible journalistic institution still take their word on videos without first fact-checking? Unfortunately, given recent statements from Steve Parker at the Post-Dispatch and the overall pathetic media performance around the NPR video, I'm not very hopeful about the answer to that question. Nevertheless, I have some things to say about how a media institution that was motivated by the ideals of responsible journalism and a pursuit of the truth might react to material from Breitbart and O'Keefe in the future.
First, it should be obvious that a credible media institution shouldn't take the word of anyone at Breitbart's websites at face value without fact-checking. This should be true of taking the word of anyone for journalists, but is especially the case for institutions that have a proven track record of distorting the truth. Passing on information from a Breitbart web site without fact checking given what we now know about them exhibits a blatant disregard for the truth and for honest journalism.
Second, video stories from Breitbart web sites should not be reported on unless the full videos are released. This should be standard practice, but again is especially crucial in cases where you're dealing with people with proven track records of twisting the truth. This applies to O'Keefe, to Breitbart, and to local folks like Adam Sharp and Bill Hennessy who have been caught lying and engaging in disingenous tactics. Posting information before getting the full facts has resulted in a number of innocent people being fired, and our modern media shares some of the blame for this fact.
Third, and finally, these outlets should not blast out a "BREAKING!" story without speaking to the people highlighted in the smear videos and giving them an opportunity to look into the issue and produce a thoughtful response. Of course, the pressure of the modern news cycle makes this difficult, but journalistic institutions need to be about having their audience's trust first, and focus on the "OMG BREAKING" stuff second. In particular, O'Keefe and Breibart often link their stories to grand conspiracy theories that implicate their political enemies, and news organizations should be particularly careful to resist guilt-by-flimsy-association allegations.
And this, ultimately, is the most important point. If you call yourself a "new organization," you should engage in careful, thoughtful pursuit of the real facts. If you lazily or sensationalistically pass on information from Breitbart, O'Keefe, or their local lackeys, you are betraying your audiences trust. And while you may think it's worth it to push for those short-term ratings boosts, in the long run this approach to news will lead to the demise of organizations who practice it.