Friday, January 29, 2010

He said, she said... consider the source

It's funny how we think long and hard about accusing someone of doing something wrong in real life... but are very quick to broadcast accusations without any hard facts.

Several years ago a possible story turned the morning meeting into a heated discussion, as a prostitute had accused a local police officer of misconduct, while the cop denied everything. I wasn't the boss at the time, but argued that I'd rather trust a police officer than a streetwalker. The powers that be decided to do the story and... surprise! It turned out the girl was not the proverbial "hooker with a heart of gold" and the charges were dropped.

But by then the horse was out of the barn. How many people saw the first story about the cop and attached a bad reputation to his name... and how many of those missed the follow-up that cleared him?

We run into "he said, she said" situations all the time. (See: Edwards, John) But often we do the story before we have all the facts.

And these are the kinds of stories where you sometimes have to trust your gut. And always consider the source. If one of the people involved doesn't seem credible, if the story seems so out of character, it bears looking into. Sure, sometimes the person who seems squeaky clean is lying, but you owe it to both parties to dig a little deeper. Many times you have to go "off the record" in these situations, but that kind of information can be useful in helping you get a clearer picture of what happened.

When doing these kids of stories, remember that when it comes to someone's reputation, you can't un-ring the bell. Think long and hard about the implications if you turn out to be wrong. (You could get sued, for one thing.) But put yourself in the shoes of the accused and consider that point of view.

Until you have tangible proof, "he said, she said" stories are just that.

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