For a short time Thursday, Washington buzzed over a rumor reported exclusively by an online gossip Web site with no particular Supreme Court expertise that Chief Justice John Roberts was considering stepping down.
He is not resigning, as even the Radar Online site quickly concluded in backing away from its own story.
In the old days — back before Twitter, the Internet and even before 24/7 cable TV news — the public might never have heard that a rumor was going around. Once knocked down by mainstream reporters, the rumor would disappear without making it into print or onto the air, and no one was the worse for it.
Today, not a chance.
Here is the short life and quick death of the Roberts rumor:
—First reported by Radar Online, it was picked up by the widely read Drudge Report and other Internet sites. Fox News aired a brief report. All cited Radar Online.
—Meanwhile, reporters around town went to work seeking confirmation or denial from the court, the White House, the Justice Department and Congress. Reporters checked to see whether Roberts had canceled an upcoming out-of-town event, which might have signaled something was afoot. They even called ex-college classmates of Roberts.
Finally, court officials effectively put the issue to rest, though without issuing an on-the-record denial that some might construe as lending even a whiff of credibility to the rumor.
The folks at Radar Online wouldn't discuss the issue on the record either.
But another gossipy site, Above the Law, published its own exclusive: "John Roberts is Still Chief Justice."
Where did this all begin? It appears a Georgetown University law professor told his first-year criminal law class of Roberts' "plans," Above The Law said. A short while later, the professor acknowledged he was lying as part of his lesson on judging the credibility of informants, the Web site said.
Above The Law noted that a modern classroom of students is equipped with mobile devices capable of texting and instant messaging at any time.
The professor, however, did not respond to calls seeking confirmation of this account.
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