Beware the Perfect Story

During my many years as an off-and-on editor, one time-test rule I observed was to watch out for the story that seemed too perfect. The Internet has only made this vigilance more necessary.

There was a lot of buzz, and a lot of tut-tutting about the evils of the Web, last week after wide distribution of a story about how a Medford, Ore., man’s house was cleaned out after publication of a fake ad on Craigslist said everything in the house was free for the taking.

The truth turns out to be rather more mundane. According to an Associated Press story, the real damage to Robert Salisbury’s possessions was done by a couple of burglars who have now been arrested and charged. They posted the fake Craigslist ad, apparently in hopes that people responding to it and picking through the what was left of Salisbury’s home would cover their tracks. Police say that at least some of the stolen goods have been recovered.

Moral of the story: Don’t believe everything you read, online or in print, in mainstream media or elsewhere. If it seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t. Even when it’s not April Fool’s Day.

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