Brad's Newsroom Blog: The Anatomy of a Rumor

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

It started with an e-mail last Tuesday. A Gulfport businessman dropped me a note, because he heard gossip that Brent Warr had been indicted.

By late Friday afternoon, the phones at WLOX News rang off the hook. People "in the know" claimed that the Gulfport mayor had been served with legal papers.

Good journalists don't run with a story until they get two sources to go "on the record" with details about an issue. So, we went to work, contacting everybody we could think of to make sure WLOX News reported the facts.

One problem. Nobody, and I mean nobody, would talk with me on the record about Brent Warr and federal Katrina fraud charges.

Off the record, I heard a lot.

One source told me about an 11 count indictment. Another said the government came up with 14 charges.

I found out, OFF THE RECORD, about a meeting Mayor Warr held with Gulfport department heads and one council representative (though a second showed up). Nobody at that meeting would answer questions about what was discussed.

Was there an indictment? I still didn't know.

Finally, one of my most trusted sources said to relax, the indictments would be unsealed the following week. There was nothing to report on Friday. I could relax. Yet, my phone kept ringing.

People called me at home on Saturday and Sunday. Why wasn't WLOX News reporting the Warr indictments? Why? Because they hadn't been served. And if they had, nobody ON THE RECORD confirmed that information to us.

When I returned to work on Monday morning, I milked my sources again. Late in the day, I struck pay dirt. I finally heard from a reliable source -- OFF THE RECORD -- that Mayor Warr and his wife would be in a federal courtroom on Wednesday morning.

Two other sources -- OFF THE RECORD -- confirmed that court appearance. I knew where to be. But I still had nothing to report.

It wasn't until Brent and Laura Warr walked into Federal Magistrate John Roper's courtroom for case number 1:08cr132WJGRHW, the United States of America v. Gregory Brent Warr and Laura Jean Warr, that all those suspicions and rumors had ON THE RECORD attribution.

The sources were wrong. The government had 16 charges against the Warrs, not the 11 or 14 previously mentioned. And the person who told me Laura Warr was indicted on just one charge was way off base. She was linked to every count, just like her husband.

Here's my point. I pride myself on accurate reporting. So does this television station. If we can't verify a story ON THE RECORD, we won't run with it.

Ironically, while I was writing this, my boss came over. He heard another rumor that could be linked to the Warr story. Time to work the phones again to find a reliable source who will confirm the information ON THE RECORD.