On Wednesday a website called "Capitol Correspondent" reported that: "Sources are saying that Vincent Gray is about to resign as mayor of Washington, DC." Sounds official, eh?
The report started flying around Washington despite the fact that hardly anyone had heard of "Capitol Correspondent" and even fewer had heard for the site's editor, Carmen Russell-Sluchansky. According to the Washington City Paper,the site normal gets only a few hundred hits a day was suddenly inundated with tens of thousands of visits -- to the point the website crashed for a while. In fact, Capitol Correspondent is a radio news show produced by the Voice of Russia. While the Russians have a certain expertise in corrupt local politics -- it would probably not be your go-to source for news about events in DC.
Eventually the Mayor's staff got around to denying the report -- but even that denial was somewhat lame, saying he has "no plans to resign." Tip to embattled politicians: When under fire it is much better to say you PLAN TO CONTINUE SERVING.
In this case the Ruskie Radio report got legs because resignation sounded plausible. We teach our clients that they and their staffs have to be hyper aware of stories coming out of the social media. A titillating story from a blog or tweet can go viral in minutes and if it is wrong can take days or weeks to put down.
Meanwhile the Capital Correspondent "journalist" is standing by his story saying:
"We still think it's legitimate to report on this, whether it be a rumor—actually we think it's more than a rumor because we have a reliable source..."
Social media and many other journalists would rather be first than right these days. Not long ago we wrote about a blog posting which alleged that South Carolina governor Nikki Haley was going to be indicted by the IRS. It took two minutes for that to go viral and two days for her to be able to knock it down.
PR staffs need to be hyper aware of what is being said in the social media and the instant they spot a bogus report they need to fire back shooting down the allegations with no uncertain words.