More than 30 years ago, as a young journalist enrolled in a summer journalism program, the one-liner from a veteran journalism pro prompted chuckles and laughter from me and my 90-plus high school cohorts:
“If your mother tells you she loves you…check it out!”
The point being: don’t take anything at face value. Question. Dig. Don’t rely on what people say—it’s often unreliable or simply untrue.
This reality comes into sharper focus amid the unraveling of U.S. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte’s “robbed at gunpoint” tale in Rio de Janeiro. With cameras everywhere (including the gas station where Lochte and company had some kind of incident), and technological capabilities seemingly growing by the nano-second, be careful what you claim. Because the “show” can trump the “tell” at any time, even if it takes a few news cycles (or even thousands of them) to do so.
Three days ago, the “check it out” admonition came to my mind as I posted about the Lochte (and his fellow swimmers) story on my Facebook page. I was about to click “post” when I realized I didn’t know that anything had been “firmly established.” Hence, my insertion of “or, at least, is alleged to have occurred”:
It took hours to establish firmly that this robbery at gunpoint actually occurred–or, at least, is alleged to have occurred.
Was there an Official Olympic PR containment effort at work here? Some initial embarrassment by the swimmers over not taking strongly recommended precautions? Time, and some investigative reporting, will reveal more about this unsettling episode.
As it turns out, what may be the most “unsettling” element is what in the world would prompt Lochte to think that he could pull off such a story. While he reportedly was intoxicated when the incident occurred, the hangover from his story will leave more than a slight headache, not only for him but other individuals and organizations, like the U.S. Olympic Swim Team and the U.S. Olympic Committee.