If you watched the X-Files, you'll know that Mulder had a poster in his office with a shot of a flying saucer and the line, "I want to believe" under it.
That might describe young reporters who take everything as the truth. You're a lot more trusting in your youth. As you get older, you cast a discerning eye on just about everything.
Since I got so much mail on the balloon boy, I thought it only fair to highlight a few times when I got suckered in as well.
-The time we talked to a guy who said he had legal proof that no one had to pay taxes. He did a very detailed interview, bringing out stuff from the Constitution and all sorts of legal rulings.
Cool, I thought. No more taxes. Did I bother to call the IRS to see if it was legit? Of course not. Why would the guy lie?
The IRS didn't agree with him, and threw him in jail the next day.
-The time I did a seemingly innocent feature on a dating service. The owner told me he'd been matching people up for a long time, and his service was the wave of the future. It was a fun story with a happy ending, showing couples who were finding their soul mates.
Did I bother to check to see how long the business had been in operation? Nope. Why would the guy lie?
That weekend I was at a party. One of the people at the party was a detective, who came up to me and said, "Hey, thanks for showing us where John Doe was."
"Huh?" I said.
"Yeah, that guy in your dating story. He's an escaped prisoner. Well, not anymore."
-National story. I interview a woman regarding someone the police are after. Oh yeah, she knew the guy. Nice as could be. Couldn't possibly commit a crime.
Next day in the hotel lobby I ran into a reporter from a major newspaper, who mentioned she had interviewed the same woman. "Wow, what a great interview," she said. "She had all kinds of dirt on the guy."
I went online and read the story. The woman's tale was 180 degrees from the story she'd told me.
So we contact the woman again and ask her how her story could be so different. She claims she just remembered things differently the more she thought about it.
-This one wasn't mine, but a classic nonetheless. It's a few days before Christmas, and a crew spots a family living under the interstate in the cold. They stop, shoot a quick story. The community opens its wallets. Some nice landlord gives them a place to live. They get toys for the kids and money.
Wow, let's show up on Christmas morning and show the poor kids opening their presents.
You guessed it. They were long gone, money in pocket and Christmas presents to boot. The whole thing was a scam.
Point is, even the most innocent stories can be filled with lies. Even the best of us get caught, so you have to always check and double check.
Because very often people will do and say just about anything to get on television.