Why bogus news stories are so hard to stop

The July 4 week was a quiet one in Washington, but the news business abhors a vacuum. Into the void sprung a perfect viral story: Female reporters were being tossed from the Speaker’s Lobby at the U.S. Capitol for being insufficiently dressy. The specific topic at hand was bare shoulders, and in an entertaining touch, one reporter ripped pages from her reporting notebook and tried to pass them off as shoulder-coverings. It didn’t work.

CBS News wrote about the rules, complaining, “These rules are far from clear cut and there are no visible signs defining them. They are also not enforced on the Senate side of the Capitol.” But the story noted that the rules are not new (though Speaker Paul Ryan had recently reminded members of their obligation to follow them), and that men are also subject to regulations, notably a requirement that they wear a tie.

Other coverage was not so restrained. Various aggregations and commentaries, to say nothing of a flotilla of tweets, whipped up anger against the “new” rules imposed by Paul Ryan, exploited the handy success of The Handmaid’s Tale to turn a metaphor, or situated the rules as emblematic of the Trump era. Veteran reporters tried to point out that the rules were not new (and were enforced when Nancy Pelosi was speaker). Others pointed out that members of Congress have been scolded too, as when Representative Bobby Rush was kicked off the floor for wearing a hoodie to honor Trayvon Martin. It made little dent. The machine was rolling.