New Epstein mystery: How did 4chan get the scoop?

Or did they at all? BuzzFeed reports that the FDNY has opened a “review” as to whether one of the first responders to Jeffrey Epstein’s cell took some time out to post the news of his suicide on 4chan. At issue is a posting timestamped nearly 40 minutes before the first media report went out on Twitter from an ABC reporter.

That assumes that someone didn’t figure out how to troll 4chan with a backdated post, of course, although the sequence seems to argue against that possibility. Whoever posted the initial report kept interacting with users in real time:

Less than 40 minutes before ABC News first reported Epstein’s death on Twitter, someone posted still-unverified details on 4chan, the anonymous message board popular with far-right trolls and white nationalists.

“[D]ont ask me how I know, but Epstein died an hour ago from hanging, cardiac arrest. Screencap this,” read the post, which was published at 8:16 AM alongside an image of Pepe, the green frog that has become a mascot for the right-wing internet trolls.

After publishing the post, other 4chan users egged on the author. When they said they didn’t believe that the information was true, the original poster added more information to the discussion thread, including a detailed breakdown of the procedures allegedly used to resuscitate Epstein, which suggest the poster may have been a first responder, medical worker, or otherwise privy to details about efforts to resuscitate the disgraced financier.

How accurate was that information? The FDNY isn’t saying, according to  BuzzFeed. The stakes might be high if this turns out to be on the level, though. The firefighters union president noted in an e-mail to Buzzfeed that releasing such information would violate HIPAA regulations and result in “discipline, suspensions, civil penalties, etc.”

Frankly, that makes this 4chan account look even more suspicious, though. Why would a first responder risk all that for an anonymous 4chan post, of all things? Why not sell it to TMZ or the National Enquirer, or just leak it out to a local reporter? It sounds suspicious enough to warrant some skepticism about those timestamps and their accuracy. It sounds like a publicity stunt or a practical joke.

At the moment, there isn’t any other independent reporting on this, although BuzzFeed has confirmed that the FDNY is taking this seriously. There is still plenty of other questionable reporting going on in the meantime. For instance, here’s a CBS report that was initially headlined, “Shrieking heard from Jeffrey Epstein’s jail cell the morning he died.” That suggests that Epstein’s “suicide” might not have been his idea. When you read the article, though, the “shrieking” seems to refer to the guards who discovered him, which isn’t exactly news:

On the morning of Jeffrey Epstein’s death there was shouting and shrieking from his jail cell, a source familiar with the situation told CBS News. Corrections officers attempted to revive him while saying “breathe, Epstein, breathe.”

Maybe everyone needs to take a deep breath and slow down, writes the Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan. Don’t get your information on Twitter, stop being a “news junkie,” and ignore early reports to wait for fully confirmed details:

What we have here is an argument for what seems impossible in 2019: slow journalism.

That’s not a joke, or an unwitting oxymoron: It’s a real thing, modeled after the 30-year-old “slow food” movement.

“We need to decide for ourselves what so-called news is worth our while, not just allow ourselves to be subjected to an endless barrage of unfiltered media assaults,” wrote Peter Laufer, a University of Oregon professor and author of “Slow News: A Manifesto for the Critical News Consumer.”

We’re in danger, in the former NBC correspondent’s view, “of missing the story because of the noise.” (Doyle McManus sang the praises of slow journalism recently in a Los Angeles Times column unrelated to Epstein.)

Laufer’s book (published in ancient times: 2011) advises such solid ideas as: “Trust accuracy over time,” “Know your sources,” and “Don’t become a news junkie.”

All of this is good advice, and perhaps a bit against interest, too. After all, the Washington Post and other media outlets make their livings off of “news junkies.” In fact, they contribute to the pool of “media assaults,” especially in breaking news stories. However, this might be advice better given to the media outlets more than their consumers, since we consumers tend to get a lot of the inaccuracies from those supposedly reliable sources and not necessarily the 4chans of the world. And if BuzzFeed’s correct, the 4chan source might have been entirely accurate.

To be fair, Sullivan does aim this at her industry colleagues as well as consumers. The bottom line is that it’s better to get it right than first. And if media outlets focused on that rather than on misleading headlines about “shrieking,” for one example, perhaps Sullivan’s warning would be less necessary.