Editors get lots of news tips and suggestions for stories from readers; we depend on them.
Journalists can’t be everywhere, so tips and story ideas make our jobs easier. There has always been a crackpot component to such tips that can be welcome as well—as comic relief. When a breathless fellow calls the newsroom to report aircraft contrails streaking across the sky (because, duh, they are spewing mind-control gas), we thank him, chuckle after we hang up, and get back to working on reality-based stories.
But there’s nothing funny about a certain crop of wackadoodle story suggestions I’ve received over the last several years. In place of alien abductions, many tipsters now complain about (perpetually debunked) widespread election fraud, communist takeovers of public schools, drag queens stalking children and a host of other wild allegations.
Far-right-wing wackos aren’t a new tribe (I remember the John Birch Society), but thanks to cable TV and social media, many Americans are in lockstep with goofy theories and the babblings of white supremacists. Tipsters mindlessly repeat what they’ve heard on talk shows or read online, often without realizing they’ve become the tools of extremists spewing racist, antisemitic and, often, nativist beliefs.
Editors and reporters are obligated to treat tipsters with respect—but that doesn’t carry over to pretending some callers’ hateful views have merit. When I get tips about QAnon-type theories or the dangers of teaching actual American history, I politely reply that we’re not interested—ever.
Please pass along ideas for stories, but if you’ve got conspiracies to peddle, save them for your next love letter to Tucker Carlson. They will get no traction here.
If you’ve seen Tahoe Tessie or witnessed the Virgin Mary playing Whac-A-Mole at Circus Circus, though, feel free to drop me a line. I could use a chuckle.