One of the most dangerous things in journalism is a pundit with an anonymous source.
As Rachel Maddow reviewed on her program Wednesday, a good number of prominent commentators -- including Bill Kristol, who in all honesty tends to be wrong about almost any political prediction he makes -- announced with confidence that Joe Biden was running for president. Everyone now knows that he is not.
“Honestly, what we did all know is that if we waited long enough, Joe Biden would tell us -- he would either get in or he would not, and then we would know,” Maddow pointed out. “There's no reason to make it up before then.”
Stories like Biden’s possible run have the effect of turning the media into an extended game of poker, where the point is to bluff like you have the scoop. Everyone is trying to out-insider each other, which creates an incentive to make more definite pronouncements than you might otherwise -- though Kristol, who even “reported” the location of Biden’s announcement, seems to be a special case.
“I hope this whole saga can be a cautionary tale,” Maddow continued. “Joe Biden had to make up his mind. In the end, he was the only source that mattered. And everyone else who got out ahead of their skis on this is rightfully embarrassed.”
That’s the thing about breaking news: Getting the scoop lasts for five minutes, after which point everyone has the story. Being wrong, on the other hand, lasts forever.