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We live in an age of experts–or, at least, self-proclaimed experts. They’re quoted all the time. They’re all over television news. But are they really experts?
Not always. Earlier this year, a guest on the cable outlet OAN claimed he had evidence the 2020 election had been rigged. Ed Solomon was described on the program as a “mathematician,” but according to a lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems, he is no such thing. In fact, the lawsuit says, “he is a convicted felon who, at the time he was interviewed by OAN, was working as an ‘installer’ at a swing set construction company in Long Island.” He has no college degree.
The case is proof, says Patti DiVincenzo, that journalists need to background everyone, from elected officials to feature subjects. DiVincenzo, IRE’s training director, shared tips on “backgrounding like a boss” at the recent NLGJA national convention.
Never assume that anyone is who they say they are, she warned. A few years ago, the Washington Post, CNBC and other national news organizations were totally fooled by a student loan “expert” named Drew Cloud, who turned out not to exist.
How to background
To avoid embarrassment or worse, DiVincenzo advises all reporters to make backgrounding a habit by following these five steps:
Use a checklist like this to make sure you cover all the bases Do a quick 15-minute check for every source Take a deeper dive into politicians and feature subjects Get resumes; people lie on them Ask in