In defense of following celebrities on Twitter

I’ll admit I’m a huge pop culture junkie. I really don’t care about the Kanyes and Kardashians out there (unless they do something so completely stupid it warrants a giggle and a snide Facebook status update), but I do keep an ear to the ground for Joss Whedon’s next project or Leonardo DiCaprio’s newest save-the-ecosystems campaign. That’s why I follow them on Twitter.*

*And not just in hopes that they’ll follow me back.

This morning, however, a tweet from Kevin Spacey caught my eye. The actor, whose most recent project was playing Francis Underwood in House of Cards, posted this:

Translation: The Washington Times is never going to get another interview with Frank Underwood…er, I mean Kevin Spacey.

Having great respect for the voice of Hopper (come on, A Bug’s Life was great and you know it), I decided to find out just what the Washington Times “made up.”

After a swift Google search, I found the story headlined “Kevin Spacey: Americans don’t appreciate Obama’s greatness.” The source was not a direct interview with Spacey, but instead drawn from an interview he did with Hot Press.

Now, I wasn’t in the interview room — unfortunately — so I can’t say if Spacey did say “greatness” or “great” in reference to President Obama, but I can tell you that the Times reporter wasn’t there, either. Whoever was working the copy desk at the Times should have been more careful with the headline writing. When I worked at the Missourian, the copy desk would often call over the reporter on a story to double-check the accuracy of a headline. The one time they didn’t was on my story about a family of Viking re-enactors. I had mistakenly used the term “Viking lore” in an interview and been chided for it; what they practiced was Viking culture and history, not legends and religion. I almost had a heart attack when I saw the headline “Benton-Stephens residents bring Viking lore to life” on the website and called in immediately before the family would see it. It seems like a small thing, but it would have made a huge difference in our accuracy and how the sources felt about the publication.

But back to the Times: I can also tell you that the article inaccurately states that the actor won an Emmy for his role in House of Cards. While I’m sure he’ll win in September, he hasn’t won yet. Just a simple fact-check would have fixed that, so I doubt any fact-checking was done at all, especially when it came to Spacey’s comments. That’s what happens when you’re trying to crank news out quickly and using other media sources as your lone source.

But that’s a much bigger blog post for another time.

The reason I called this a “defense” for following celebrities is that because I follow Spacey, I learned something new today. The actor  was able to confront critics who based their opinions on an inaccurate headline. If he had verbally come out against the headline, chances are the error in wording would have been sent to some “Celebrity Complaints” section of the tabloids. Because he used Twitter, almost 3 million followers (holy Keyser Soze!) were alerted to the inaccuracies in the Times’ report. We got it directly from the source, something the Times didn’t even bother to do before assuming (which we all know makes an ass out of you an me) and writing the headline.

I’m not saying heed everything every actor/singer/media-monger puts on social media, but in this case, Spacey used 140 characters to cast doubt over an entire publication’s credibility, and for a good reason. If they’re going to want my trust back, the Washington Times needs to be smarter about sourcing their stories.

As Frank Underwood says, “Power is a lot like real estate. It’s all about location, location, location. The closer you are to the source the higher your property value.” The same goes for sources; the closer you are, the more likely you’re not going to make a mistake in wording, get an angry Tweet sent in your direction and have 3 million people start questioning your credibility.


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