Somewhere, CNN is smirking.
In response to multiple reports that an arrest warrant has been issued for Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, the Boston Globe reports that no arrest warrant has been issued for Hernandez or anyone else in connection with the death of Odin Lloyd.
Since all reports cite unnamed law-enforcement officials, this is as good a spot as any to reiterate the concerns arising from reports based generally on one or more sources in law enforcement.
First, without knowing who the person is, there’s no way to know whether the person is in position to know anything. “Law enforcement” is a very broad term encompassing many people from various departments, local, state, and federal.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, there could be a strategic objective to publish misinformation in order to prompt a reaction from those who are being investigated. If, for example, Hernandez and others sense that the noose is tightening, will they behave in a way that indicates guilt?
So while there’s no reason to think that the reports aren’t technically accurate (i.e., that law-enforcement officials are separately saying things that don’t mesh), the conflict demonstrates that different law-enforcement officials know different things — and that they may have different reasons for spreading information that may not be accurate.
The problem for the media outlets becomes separating the cream from the crap, especially if law enforcement has decided that circulating incorrect information could prompt the kind of reaction that will help achieve the far more important goal of bringing Lloyd’s killer(s) to justice. In those situations, the sources are likely to be very persuasive and persistent, which could make them in turn seem even more credible.