The immediacy of social media is a serious pitfall for some old-school journalists who are used to having an editor around to back-stop their bad decisions. It certainly was for Washington Post sports columnist Mike Wise, who posted a phony news story on Twitter in a misguided attempt to demonstrate how easy it is to start rumors there. Now he's been suspended from his job for a month.
The vehicle of Wise's downfall was a seven-word Tweet: "Roethlisberger will get five games, I'm told." That referred to the Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback's presumed pending suspension by the National Football League. Wise's 3,300-plus followers quickly spread the news, "proving" his point -- that a lot of the stuff you read on the Internet is wrong.
Violated Post Social Media Guidelines
Of course, my FanHouse colleague Michael David Smith has already argued pretty convincingly that Wise proved nothing of the sort. People believed Wise's Tweet not because it was on Twitter but because it came from a reporter at a paper with a reputation for accuracy. Indeed, anyone who thought there was something fishy about Wise's information had only to look for reassurance at the Post's social media guidelines, which stipulate that "Post journalists must recognize that any content associated with them in an online social network is, for practical purposes, the equivalent of what appears beneath their bylines in the newspaper or on our website."
So Wise unquestionably screwed up. Still, it's possible his punishment was harsher than it would have been had it not been the latest in a series of embarrassments for the Post dating back to last year, when the paper's top leaders signed off on a salon series that was widely seen as a compromise of its integrity. There was also Mouthpiece Theater, a short-lived satirical video series that was killed after its descent into misogynist humor, and the resignation of blogger Dave Weigel after it was revealed that he'd attacked conservatives on a private email listserv.
I emailed executive editor Marcus Brauchli, and heard back from a Post spokeswoman, who said, "Mike did not follow our guidelines and has since apologized for it. We take these matters very seriously; however, we do not discuss personnel issues."