Anatomy of a media smear

Over the last fortnight, the Democrats, the Obama campaign, media, and bloggers have all railed against John McCain for "allowing" crowds at his rally to get out of control and espouse hateful sentiments.

Numerous conservative bloggers have debunked this notion - an easy task if one were to simply watch the YouTube streams of these rallies. But liberal critics have pointed in particular to one Palin rally in Pennsylvania where an audience member supposedly screamed "Kill him" when Obama's name was mentioned.

Commentators from Keith Olbermann to Joe Klein at Time Magagzine have pointed to this single utterance as "proof" that Republican crowds were turning into an "angry mob" and posed a danger to Obama and our republic.

It turns out, the genesis of this story is from a report on the rally that appeared in the Scranton Times-Tribune. One reporter wrote of the supposed shouted threat. The problem is, no Secret Service agent in the crowd heard it nor did anyone else apparently. And the Secret Service says that after interviewing 20 people who attended the rally - security and non security people aike -  the allegation is now "unfounded."

The Scranton Times-Tribune first reported the alleged incident on its Web site Tuesday and then again in its print edition Wednesday. The first story, written by reporter David Singleton, appeared with allegations that while congressional candidate Chris Hackett was addressing the crowd and mentioned Oabama's name a man in the audience shouted "kill him."

News organizations including ABC, The Associated Press, The Washington Monthly and MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann reported the claim, with most attributing the allegations to the Times-Tribune story.

Agent Bill Slavoski said he was in the audience, along with an undisclosed number of additional secret service agents and other law enforcement officers and not one heard the comment.

"I was baffled," he said after reading the report in Wednesday's Times-Tribune.

He said the agency conducted an investigation Wednesday, after seeing the story, and could not find one person to corroborate the allegation other than Singleton.

Slavoski said more than 20 non-security agents were interviewed Wednesday, from news media to ordinary citizens in attendance at the rally for the Republican vice presidential candidate held at the Riverfront Sports Complex. He said Singleton was the only one to say he heard someone yell "kill him."

"We have yet to find someone to back up the story," Slavoski said. "We had people all over and we have yet to find anyone who said they heard it."

Hackett said he did not hear the remark.

The only person who heard the remark was the reporter? Mr. Singleton was interviewed by the Secret Service and "stands by his story." When contacted, Singleton referred people to his editor who claims "The facts reported are true and that’s really all there is.”

Except that's not all there is. This is a story that went viral, appearing on national cable nets and broadcast news channels as well as national magazines and hundreds if not thousands of blogs.

And now we find that the reporter - despite his protestations to the contrary - just made it up out of whole cloth in order to play into his overall theme that GOP crowds were "angry" and out of control?

Let's see how many media outlets who rushed this story on to the air or into print report on the Secret Service investigation. If they had a single ounce of integrity, they would apologize to the McCain-Palin campaign, the GOP, its supporters, and every single American who heard the story.

My guess is they'll have as much integrity as Mr. Singleton's editor who seems to be living by the creed, even if it's a lie, "stand by the story."