How NBC Affil KNTV's Baseless Obama iPad Story Propagated

The other day an innocuous mention of President Obama’s iPad quickly deteriorated into a wildly speculative our-president-is-an-elitist-queue-jumper story that propagated across the MSM.  A shout-out goes to my local San Francisco NBC affiliate, KNTV, for their significant contribution to the virulent mess, with an assist from the CNN White House producer.

Michael Schneider (@franklinavenue) - LA Bureau Chief for TV Guide, directing his comments at KNTV -  tweeted:  This is the worst journalism I’ve seen in a long time. @nbcbayarea, you should be ashamed.  (note: @franklinavenue is Schneider’s personal Twitter page.  His work tweets are here.)

The mess was first noted by Josef Adalian (@TVMoJoe on Twitter) - west coast editor for NYMag’s Vulture blogger - who tracked the evolution of the story.

It’s a textbook example of how far-fetched speculation propagates and mutates into accepted fact, how an innocent mention of Obama’s iPad was shaped into an attack on the President’s character.

In ital. here’s the series of tweets by the clearly exasperated @TVMoJoe.  My comments in the parentheses.

So yesterday, Pres Obama does a Univision town hall, reveals he has an iPad. Cute. Here’s how CBSMktWatch reports:

All good so far. But CNN also reports. Says it’s not sure if it’s iPad 1 or 2. Notes iPad users are “selfish elites.”

(fyi - on the above - the link leads to a blog post by CNN White House producer Bonney Kapp who concluded her comments with an inexplicably mean swipe.)

A little wingnut bait, but OK. Here comes a Mac blog: It decides Obama has an iPad 2 & Steve Jobs gave it to him.

(The Mac blog references CNN, then takes over where CNN left off.)

Here’s where things go south, fast: NBC affil in LA say it’s an iPad and that Obama “cut in line” to get it. Really.

(For me, the link leads to NBC San Francisco Bay Area affiliate KNTV.  Not only that, KNTV featured the story prominently on their home page using a font twice the size of most of their heds: “Obama Cuts in Line and Gets an iPad 2″   NBC mentions The Mac Blog that mentions CNN.)

(Side note: I got an iPad 2 on the day it was released after waiting in line just 20 minutes at a Wal-Mart. It wasn’t impossible to obtain.)

Sure enough, Drudge SLOBBERS all over that “Obama cuts in line” hed and posts a link.

I’m not sure if saw Drudge or vice-versa, but now has now ripped off first grafs of NBC report:

So one innocent Obama remark about owning an iPad turns into “Obama gets special favors from Apple” meme-in-waiting. Really.

This allows commenters on all sites to drool on about what a creep Obama is and make lame “there’s an app for that” “jokes”

Obama may very well have called Jobs himself and gotten an iPad 2. Jobs might have sent him one, unrequested. But we don’t know any of this.

This is what happens when you lay off lots and lots of reporters, consolidate, and destroy local media. Among other things.

Then, @franklinavenue followed the links and recapped @TVMoJoe’s series of tweets on his personal blog, using multiple screen captures. (Worth reading.  The post took some time to construct, clearly.)

It’s no wonder many media consumers are half-crazed much of the time.  They’re fed a steady diet of gut-wrenching distortions and speculative fiction masquerading as news and fact.

Recently, conservative columnist Peter Wehner warned about the dangers of imagined conspiracies:  The danger when one paints the world in such conspiratorial terms is that it devalues the rational side of politics. It encourages a cast of mind that looks to expose enemies rather than to engage in arguments.

In another excellent blog post titled “The Dangers of Demonization and  The Conspiracy  Temptation,” Wehner had this to say: If we get to the point where we assume that our political differences can be explained only by some deeper, hidden evil in our opponents, then self-government itself is trouble.

NBC affiliate KNTV especially went out of their way to demonize.  Multiply this times a thousand for the daily American radioactive dose.  It’s the meth of the airwaves.  Initially, audiences get a kick out of the petty speculations  (and websites may see a brief uptick in traffic and comments) but, in the long run, it’s toxic to the body politic.

UPDATE: KNTV has now altered the headline to simply say “Obama Gets An iPad” - several days after the fact.   There’s  an editor’s note, saying the White House “has not responded to a request for comment.”

There were other changes to the story as well but it’s still filled with speculation that Obama received an  iPad 2 from Steve Jobs as “a gift for choosing him as a dinner guest.”