KRAVITZ: On fake news, bogus Twitter handles and the mysteries surrounding the Colts

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Bob Kravitz

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - We live in a strange media age. We live in an age where anybody with a computer can play pretend journalist, where every oddball report is treated like the gospel and is retweeted and given credence by the unsuspecting. I’m pretty sure Russian hackers aren’t involved in this whole story surrounding Jim Irsay and his front-office mess, but there are times when it seems that way.

What do the Trumpsters call it now? Fake news.

We live in an age when a website, notably bluehqmedia.com, can run a long, detailed piece about why the Peyton Manning and Jon Gruden deals fell apart despite having no idea who their freelancer’s source was. All they knew is the freelancer, Jim Osborne, told them he had a “high ranking Colts executive.’’ That was good enough for them. They ran with it.

Now, I don’t know if his story is true or not. It’s certainly quite detailed, which makes it look legitimate, and it includes snippets of information I know to be true. And believe me, I’m not crushing a bunch of young, journalistic hopefuls; just giving a small piece of advice from an old codger. When a freelancer says he has a bombshell story, you darned well better know the source or sources before you put your website’s reputation on the line.

Look, the mainstream media has no monopoly on the truth. We are wrong more often than we’d like to admit. I whiffed on the P.J. Fleck-to-Purdue tweet. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network was wrong when he reported earlier this year that Jack Mewhort was finished for the season because of an injury. Chris Mortensen was wrong when he reported incorrect information he received that 11 of 12 Patriots footballs were dramatically underinflated in the Colts-Patriots AFC Title Game.

We also have worked long and hard to establish a good reputation for accuracy, and that is done by being right far – FAR – more often than we’re wrong. Nobody remembers, but I was the first to report that Manning was going to be dropped by the Colts after the 2011 season. I was the first to report that Chuck Pagano would miss most or all of the season while fighting cancer. I was the first to report the existence of an investigation into whether the Patriots used deflated footballs or not.

The same goes for Schefter, for Rapoport, for Christensen, for Jay Glazer, for the vast majority of men and women who’ve established their bona fides by being right the overwhelming portion of the time.

A freelancer? One who describes himself on Twitter as an “aspiring sports writer’’? If you’re running a website, you better KNOW who this person’s source, or sources, are. And if he’s not willing to share that information, you better not run that story.

Again, this is not my roundabout way of saying, “Unless you hear it from me or JMV or Schefter or whoever, don’t buy it.’’ Sometimes, the truth is revealed in the unlikeliest places, by the unlikeliest sources. This country has a long, proud history of independent journalism. Look up I.F. Stone, for instance.

But there’s a lot of nonsense out there, and it’s incumbent upon readers and listeners to be discerning consumers of media – something I believe the public failed to do during the presidential campaign.

Let’s start with a Twitter account formerly known as “Letsknockemdown.’’

All week, the person or people behind the account, which once described itself as a sports and betting site, insisted Chuck Pagano would be fired at a Tuesday press conference, followed shortly thereafter by another big announcement that would leave Colts fans cheering. The person, who never identified himself by name, also said that if he was wrong, he would shut down the website.

Safe to say, it got lots of retweets and he got lots of follows, and I spent a good part of the week tracking the story down.

So Tuesday came.

Tuesday went.

Nothing happened.

I went to “Letsknockemdown.’’ It no longer exists. So at least they’re true to their word.

During the height of Deflategate, a Twitter gambling site named “SharksOfVegas’’ reported that the Wells Report would fully exonerate the Patriots and would, in fact, take specific issue with how the Colts behaved during the process. I got hundreds, maybe thousands of notes from hot-and-bothered New Englanders who were convinced this was the gospel truth.

The Wells Report came out.

It blasted the Patriots. It said almost nothing about the Colts. The story they were pedaling was a complete fabrication, a fairy tale of the lowest order.

SharksOfVegas immediately blocked me.

Be mindful, too, that there are fake Twitter handles all over the web.

The other day, a fake Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported that Manning was going to be named as the team’s president and general manager. A number of unsuspecting readers retweeted it, ran with it and asked me about the veracity of the report, when all they had to do was check out the feed. Guy is not verified, as is the real Rapoport, who has over a million followers. This guy had 20 followers at the time I checked. (UPDATE: He has 21 now.)

The same with Adarn Schefter. Yes, Adarn. One very creative and possibly twisted person came up with an ingenious fake handle for the real Adam Schefter, noting that the `r’ and the `n’ bleed into one another and look a whole lot like an `m.’ He got me once, I’m ashamed to say. Tweeted the Colts had traded Dwight Freeney. I retweeted without giving it much thought. And got burned. It was darned Adarn.

He got me.

Look, I want to know just the way you want to know. I want to spin this story forward, give it depth and texture and specificity. Why did the Gruden and Manning deals fall apart? Osborne might have gotten it right, and if he did, I will pat him on the back and buy him a beer. But on a story like this, a massive story that is still unfolding even as we speak, it’s best to rely on sources who have built up a deep reservoir of trust with the public.

We’ve had enough fake news in recent months to last a lifetime.

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