Secret Service finds no basis for "kill him" smear

The Secret Service investigation into allegations that someone yelled, “Kill him!” at a Sarah Palin rally has found no basis to the charge.  The story, which got picked up by the national media, came entirely based on the recollection of one man, a reporter for the Scranton Times-Tribune.  No one else at the rally recalls hearing it, including the Secret Service detail that listens for just that kind of threat:

The agent in charge of the Secret Service field office in Scranton said allegations that someone yelled “kill him” when presidential hopeful Barack Obama’s name was mentioned during Tuesday’s Sarah Palin rally are unfounded.

The Scranton Times-Tribune first reported the alleged incident on its Web site Tuesday and then again in its print edition Wednesday. The first story, written by reporter David Singleton, appeared with allegations that while congressional candidate Chris Hackett was addressing the crowd and mentioned Oabama’s [sic] name a man in the audience shouted “kill him.”

News organizations including ABC, The Associated Press, The Washington Monthly and MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann reported the claim, with most attributing the allegations to the Times-Tribune story.

Agent Bill Slavoski said he was in the audience, along with an undisclosed number of additional secret service agents and other law enforcement officers and not one heard the comment.

“I was baffled,” he said after reading the report in Wednesday’s Times-Tribune.

This was deemed so damaging to Republicans that Barack Obama mentioned it in last night’s debate.  However, only Singleton managed to hear it in a crowd of thousands.  The newspaper says it will stand by its story, but the reporter never bothered to look around to get a description of the alleged offender, and never bothered to get confirmation from the many people standing around him at the time.

That’s not exactly a great piece of journalism, is it?  And the Times-Tribune’s editors seem a little too credulous to run an allegation, even if witnessed by their reporter, without having him get at least a couple of bystanders to agree with his recollection.  We can make the same criticism of the national media, who seemed so eager to paint McCain-Palin rallies as gatherings of Deliverance-style mutants to bother checking the quality of the report.

McCain defended the honor of his supporters last night.  Maybe Obama would like to apologize for buying into a smear campaign and amplifying it on national television.  I won’t hold my breath.