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ABC News and the Rubio Vetting Rumors: Would Peter Jennings Run With This?

Rubio Romney 2.jpg

This media morality tale involves Sen. Marco Rubio, a rumor, and one day of media spin.

The day began with ABC News reporting that Sen. Marco Rubio was not being vetted by the Romney campaign.

“What I have learned is that he has not been asked to do even the first step. He has not been asked to fill out any questionnaires, he has not been asked to turn over any personal documents by the Romney vetting team.”

This could have a big impact on Romney’s support among Hispanics – a crucial voting block. If Rubio isn’t even being vetted, that could be taken as a slight.

But there’s a slight problem with this story, according to Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute’s Sense-making Project.

ABC News never actually tells you where they got this information from.

“They don’t even say anonymous sources are telling us,” McBride said. “They just use that passive, ‘We have learned.’”

You have to go to their website to find out the source is two unnamed Republicans (not even necessarily someone in the Romney campaign.

Fox News’s Sean Hannity asked Romney about the rumor - -and Romney refused to talk about it. But the furor grew throughout the day.

Finally, Romney called a special press conference to make this short announcement: “Marco Rubio is being thoroughly vetted as part of our process.”

ABC News crowed that they’d forced Romney to address their story.

But McBride says she’s disturbed.

“Here’s the problem for us as news consumer. We will never know whether ABC News had bad information,” she said.

She says granting anonymity to sources gives them a lot of power. They can say whatever they want with little danger for themselves.

McBride said the motives of the sources in this story can’t be determined. They may be Rubio supporters trying to force the hand of the Romney campaign.

Or they could be an anti-Romney faction of the GOP, looking to sow discord.

“Their sources may have ulterior motives, and we don’t know what they are,” she said. “I can’t imagine Peter Jennings going with this.”

Scott Finn is a former news director at WUSF Public Media, which provides in-depth reporting for Tampa Bay and all of Florida.
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