02/22/04 — Rumors: A good news medium goes astray on one story

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Rumors: A good news medium goes astray on one story

Everyone has an occasional lapse in judgment, and that includes even the best of news organizations.

The News-Argus certainly errs now and then. When you disagree with our judgment, you can correct us. You are invited to send us a letter and tell us where we went wrong. If it’s 300 words or fewer and doesn’t libel anyone, you can even share it with our readers.

That privilege isn’t available to viewers of TV news. They don’t have letters columns. Yet, even the best of them make errors, too.

WRAL-TV is certainly one of the best.

Recently, though, it has been off-base on one story. It has reported that Seymour Johnson Air Force Base is “on a preliminary list of alleged base closings.”

This is a reference to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission that will recommend ways to trim the number of military bases. The BRAC itself is a group of civilian and military leaders who will conduct a study of the bases and their functions.

Congress authorizes BRACs every few years as an effort to make sensitive closing decisions in a nonpolitical way. If the recommendations are accepted by the president and Congress, they cannot be altered. The one being started now is called BRAC 2005 and is supposed to be completed next year.

Its members have not yet been appointed. Even the Pentagon’s criteria for closing or retaining bases have not been finally decided.

So, obviously, WRAL’s reference to a closings list now is misleading. There is no official closings list, preliminary or otherwise.

It is true that opinions are circulating on the Internet, but they are merely guesses or, worse, propaganda. The bases vary from one list to another, and the lists have no meaning.

They can be circulated precisely to generate rumors. For example, a lobbyist for one community might wish to plant the idea that a base in another community is considered expendable.

The responsible thing to do is ignore these rumors. BRAC is in its very earliest stages, and rumors about what it will do have no credibility. No useful purpose is served by broadcasting speculation that can cause fear and concern within communities.

Published in Editorials on February 22, 2004 8:34 AM