As a journalist, it often falls to me to call someone who knows about a subject, ask them to give me their opinions on that subject, and then tell the public what they said.
For example, if I had questions about the president’s plans for the country’s relationship with, say Saudi Arabia, I might, as a journalist, call up a New Jersey senator and say “Hello, is this New Jersey Senator Cory Booker?” And if that person said, “Yes, this is Senator Cory Booker, former presidential candidate and boyfriend of Kids star Rosario Dawson. How can I help you?” then I would proceed to ask that person questions about U.S. foreign policy. That is just how journalism works; it’s how Walter Cronkite did it, and it’s how all the other journalists whose names I definitely know have always done it.
But the system isn’t perfect. Sometimes, a news outlet like the BBC calls up a man for a radio interview, asks him if he’s New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, and that man simply lies. Then, of course, once that tangled web is woven, it takes about 48 hours to verify which men are and are not Cory Booker, then another day or so to issue a retraction, like the one released by the BBC today:
“In our Newshour radio programme on Friday, a man claiming to be Senator Cory Booker was interviewed in what appears to be a deliberate hoax. We have apologised to Senator Booker and are looking into what went wrong to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The interview only aired once at 2000 GMT on Newshour on Friday 26 February and has not appeared elsewhere.”
And though no audio of the interview has been released, the Daily Mail reports that many of the questions the BBC asked the man who is now believed to be Not Cory Booker focused on the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Though the BBC says the interview only aired once, many U.S. social media users tweeted about a Newshour report in which they could have sworn they heard British-sounding people interviewing a person who did not sound anything like Cory Booker. The BBC might respond that it’s impossible to tell when Americans are lying, as they lie about being Senator Cory Booker constantly.
Truly this is a journalism mistake that could happen to anyone. I actually spent a better part of my Friday calling random numbers from the Atlantic City, Maplewood, and Piramus areas, asking whoever answered if they were Cory Booker and if so had they any thoughts on the state of the stimulus package and comments on how early-aughts sexism may have affected the cultural impact of the underrated film Josie and the Pussycats. Luckily all of my sources declined to comment on the record or I might be issuing a very similar retraction today.