There's an old journalism cliche that goes something like this: "If your mother says she loves you, get a second source."
The cautionary quip reminds reporters and editors to remain skeptical, double-check the information you're going to relay to readers and question authority. That's something we all need to keep in mind after the U.S. killed Qassem Soleimani and other people in an airstrike.
The facts from the White House have been less than sketchy on what led to Friday’s assassination of the top military leader of an enemy regime.
Supporters of President Donald Trump don't like the term "assassination," arguing this was a military strike. Some commenters on The Observer's Facebook page expressed their discontent with the term. And Trump detractors are hyping up the killing as illegal. We're not weighing in on that. There's nothing wrong with calling the strike an assassination. That's just what it was.
There were plots, after all, in World War II to assassinate Hitler. Not that Soleimani is anywhere on par with Hitler, but the point is newspapers need to call things what they are. And in times of crisis, reporters and the rest of us needs to stick to facts and be wary and critical of opinions no matter who gives them and particularly when they smell like propaganda.
Since the killing of Soleimani, the political spin machine began working overtime. Here are some of the early assessments and statements that came out after Trump announced the killing:
John Bolton, former Trump national security adviser, took to Twitter to praise the strike and express hope this leads to regime change in Tehran.
Ari Fleischer, the press secretary for the administration of President George W. Bush from 2001-03, chimed in on Fox News how Iranians could end up celebrating the death.
Fox News talking head Ainsley Earhardt on Friday called Soleimani a "bad guy," and there is little to quibble with that. She also said Soleimani was responsible for killing 600,000 U.S. troops.
Bolton is about as hawkish as hawks get. He has advocated for the U.S. to use military force in Venezuela, North Korea and other countries. He has yet to meet a war he doesn't like.
Ari Fleischer is the guy who in the lead-up to the war with Iraq claimed the small county had weapon of mass destruction when it did not. He claimed the Saddam Hussein regime was in cahoots with al-Qaeda, when, again, the facts did not bear that out. And he lied about telling reporters that Valerie Plame was a CIA covert agent until he received immunity from prosecution.
Iranians admired Soleimani. Thousands of Iranians marched in funeral processions this weekend to honor him. The takes from Fleischer and Bolton look like opinions detached from reality.
Earhardt's assertion is dubious at best. The total number of U.S. Armed Forces that died or went missing in World War II is a little more than 407,000. The U.S. Civil War — our bloodiest war — had 620,000 military deaths.
There is no way an Iranian general was responsible for the deaths of 600,000 U.S. troops.
Even Farnaz Fassihi of The New York Times fell for misinformation. She tweeted on Friday the largest U.S. military base in Iran was under attack. She later tweeted that was not true. The initial post garnered some 1,600 retweets before Fassihi deleted it. Her correction received less than 400 retweets.
The point is the amount of misinformation passing as fact and wishful thinking passing as expert opinion after Soleimani’s killing spread fast and can be all too easy to fall for, particularly on social media. And Iran's retaliation Tuesday with a missile strike on U.S. bases in Iraq is going to add a fresh round of Facebook memes and hot takes.
Don’t buy into the bogus mess. Don’t let confirmation bias get in the way of critical thinking and reality. Find that other source before spouting off about how much your mother loves you.