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News Flash: Stupid Rumors, Like Justice Roberts 'Retiring', Spread Fast On The Web

As those who follow the Supreme Court closely — or perhaps just read lots of blogs — have heard, Chief Justice John Roberts is not retiring. At least not now.

Why do we bring up such non-news?

Because for a while yesterday, thanks to the mostly tabloid site RadarOnline.com, there was a big buzz on the Web about Roberts supposedly planning to step down from the bench, giving Democratic President Barack Obama a chance to replace the Republican appointee.

Radar jumped to that conclusion (and got lots of folks to follow it off the cliff) because it believed some tweets or blog posts apparently published by students at the Georgetown University Law Center. Ironically, in a class about confidential informants the students had spread a story their professor made up (as part of the class) about Roberts planning to step down.

Above the Law, a legal blog, tracked down how this all happened.

This afternoon, Above the Law founder David Lat talked with All Things Considered's Melissa Block about the bogus Roberts rumor. As he told her, "the Internet is a very flat form of communication" that allows for the quick spread of information:

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Lat also said he and others who cover the High Court suspected immediately that there wasn't any support for the story — though they still had to check it out. But as a source told Above the Law, the 55-year-old Roberts would "probably sooner die than give President Obama a chance to name his successor":

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Moral of the story: Look before you leap when it comes to what you read on the Web (even here, I suppose).

More from Melissa's conversation with Lat will be on ATC today. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts the show. Later, the as-broadcast version of the interview will be posted here.

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