Anyone looking for a good reason why the mainstream media took so long to get onboard with the tabloid-sourced news about John Edwards’ affair need only look to a story that ran this week about Barack Obama and actor George Clooney.
According to the story that ran Tuesday in the Daily Mail, a notorious British tabloid, Obama has exchanged e-mails, phone calls and text messages with Clooney, who was supposedly advising the candidate on everything from body language to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Obama-Clooney story was concocted from anonymous sources. Yet it spread throughout the world within hours. It was quickly picked up by The Drudge Report and television networks ranging from Fox News to NBC. The overall result served to bolster Republican candidate John McCain’s dubious contention that his rival Obama is a vapid “celebrity” rather than presidential material.
Clooney responded to the article with humor: “"I have never texted or e-mailed Sen. Obama,” he said in a statement. “And I'll offer a million dollars to anyone who could prove otherwise.
“In fact, I've only talked to the senator once in the last year and a half.... on the phone. I've spent more time with Sen. McCain (he did my TV show) than I have with Sen. Obama.
“I would hope that my friend John McCain would join me in condemning this kind of politics. Although I support Sen. Obama, I would never be dumb enough to offer policy advice to either candidate. They seem to be doing fine without me."
The Daily Mail ran Clooney’s statement Wednesday as an “update” to its original story, with the new headline “George Clooney denies texting Barack Obama about foreign policy.” No retraction of its original story, no correction, no sign of regret, no apology for spreading falsehoods.
But, no matter, the Daily Mail story had already done its damage. Colleagues at other British papers such as The Telegraph reprinted the phony “scoop” while dozens of more reliable and mainstream media outlets in the U.S. ran with the Mail’s unsourced story — usually by adding a question mark at the end of their headlines to provide journalistic cover of sorts. And, of course, right-wing blogs referenced the Daily Mail’s story as if it were undeniable fact.
One of the reporters who worked on the Daily Mail malarkey, Sharon Churcher, told Politico that the British tabloid “ran it because we believed it was true.” Said Churcher, “It came in good faith from sources we believed . . . we still trust our sources.”
Because a publicist representing Clooney had said offhandedly that the actor and the candidate had indeed “spoken” in the past, Churcher said in her mind that counted as “a confirmation” from Clooney that he was an official adviser on Middle Eastern affairs and body language and that the two were in constant contact.
“We believed we had confirmation from Mr. Clooney’s representatives,” said Churcher, though she talked to Politico via telephone so it is difficult to confirm whether or not she said it with a straight face. She did laugh, however, when asked if she would take Clooney up on his offer to pay $1,000,000 to the person who could prove her story.
Churcher said she tried to contact the Obama campaign when working on her initial story but didn’t hear back before her deadline. “Had we had their denial we would have done a different story,” she said, though she declined to state whether or not the Daily Mail would have still published the piece.
Clooney’s representative Stan Rosenfield said his office merely confirmed to Daily Mail reporters that, in the past, the actor had spoken to Obama, but he did not give them any details about the conversations. Rosenfield said he thought Republican tricksters might be behind the concocted story. Of course, he added, now that the article is out there, “one of the problems of this world is unringing a bell.”
He added that no one from the Daily Mail had called to take Clooney up on his million-dollar offer. If the story was true, said Rosenfield, “someone is a million bucks poorer.”
Even an American tabloid reporter was quick to scoff at the British paper’s bogus tale. When told the names of the two Daily Mail writers (Churcher and Caroline Graham) behind the Clooney-Obama article, one U.S. tabloid reporter said they were “not the most reliable” journalists working in the gutter press. Both were widely known for “making things up,” said the tabloid reporter who, ironically, refused to be quoted by name.
But we do have a big scoop for the Daily Mail: According to “sources,” McCain will be soon be selecting BatBoy for his vice president.