ANATOMY OF A RUMOR

FANNED BY THE AIRWAVES, WEB WORDS SPREAD LIKE WILDFIRE
March 27, 2006

IN THE span ofthree days last August, commissioner Bud Selig's office fielded more than 50calls from reporters checking the rumor that two of baseball's biggeststars--Roger Clemens and Johnny Damon--had tested positive for steroids andthat an announcement from MLB's office was imminent. Radio talk shows aroundthe country were speculating about the speculation, and several newspaperspublished stories that said Clemens and Damon were under suspicion.

The rumor--whichwas false--began with an anonymous contributor to a Chicago White Sox fanwebsite. Here's how an Internet post triggered a mass-media frenzy.

•ON AUG. 17spataro51 posted on soxtalk.com: "... I am just repeating what was toldthrough my source that I have through MLB that works with MLB's press releases.SO IF I AM NOT CORRECT ABOUT THIS DON"T KILL THE MESSENGER! I am hearingthat 2 of baseballs biggest names will be announced friday [Aug. 19] after theytested positive for steroids, i guess they appealed just like [Rafael] palmeirodid and that is why it took so long for this to come out. I must also tell youthat my source told me about palmeiro testing positive 2 days before theyannounced it, so i have a reason to believe he is also right this time. Astarting pitcher (old) from the astros and a center fielder from the red soxhave tested positive and they will be announced and suspended comefriday."

•MANY POSTERS onSoxtalk immediately guessed that the "old" pitcher was Clemens and thecenterfielder was Damon, and several sports blogs began extensive threadsdiscussing the rumor, with direct links from fan websites to the soxtalk.compost. On NYYfans.com, a Yankees site, Mezmerize wrote, "Supposedly, therewill be an announcement tomorrow stating Clemens and Johnny Damon (not by namevia link, but deducable) have tested positive and will be suspended. Still arumor at this point, but its coming from different places." TarHeelDAF, onthe Cincinnati Reds' blog redreporter.com, added that the Clemens rumor"has apparently been confirmed by multiple sources inside MLB who say he isin the process of appealing."

•THE BUZZ aboutClemens and Damon grew much louder once mainstream journalists picked up therumor. Hours after the initial Soxtalk.com posting, the ESPN radio affiliate inChicago referred to the rumor and indicated that an announcement from MLB wasforthcoming.

•ON AUG. 19 theBoston Globe, Houston Chronicle and Los Angeles Times were among a dozennewspapers that published stories mentioning the rumor and naming Clemens andDamon. Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein was widely quoted, vehementlydenying the rumors. "The reporting of this steroid issue," Epsteinsaid, "has taken on witch-hunt proportions, and I think it's wrong. I'dlike to think some actual reporting is going on." In the Chronicle, Seligsaid, "This isn't journalism's finest hour. Some people ought to beashamed."

•NOT ONLY did Aug.19 pass without an announcement from Selig, but major league officials said therumors were "100 percent not true." With the hysteria subsiding, theSoxtalk moderator, YASNY, responded as follows to a suggestion from a posterthat the site had libeled Clemens and Damon: "How about you stop worryingabout Soxtalk's potential legal problems? It would also be appreciated if youwould lay off people who try and contribute information to Soxtalk that may notbe out there in the main stream media. Sometimes, this type of info is correctand sometimes it's not. That's the nature of the beast."

PHOTOBRAD MANGINFAST ONE Posters said Clemens had tested positive, but MLB flatly denied it.
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