Here’s How the Rumor That John Roberts Is Retiring May Have Gotten Started

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Obama and Roberts, going in for the high five. Photo: Pete Souza/The White House

Earlier today, RadarOnline reported that the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, 55-year-old John Roberts, was going to step down tomorrow. It was a big claim — sensational news, really. Something really big would have to be up for him to willingly step out of the seat at such a young age, and let Obama fill it with a more liberal jurist. The wild implausibility of the report, combined with the source (news about Tiger Woods's mistresses we trust them to reliably dig up, but this?), led us and most other outlets to ignore it. We were right to. The rumor turned out to be false.

After Radar updated their story (with another "exclusive," a double win!), legal blog Above the Law got to sniffing around to see how the story had happened. Though Radar wouldn't reveal their sourcing, ATL thinks they've got it figured out: It was all because of a clever lecture delivered by Peter Tague, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, to a class full of (a little bit too) impressionable first-years. "Today’s class was partially on the validity of informants not explaining their sources. He started off class at around 9 a.m. EST by telling us not to tell anyone, but that we might find it interesting that tomorrow, Roberts would be announcing his retirement for health concerns," a student informed ATL. "He refused to tell anyone how he knew. Then, at around 9:30, he let everyone in on the joke."

Measuring the timestamps on the Radar posts, ATL notes that this story corresponds almost exactly with when the story, and then the correction, went live. So: a lesson to everybody! Radar, do your diligence! First-years, stop IMing in class and being so gullible! Teachers at elite universities, stop overestimating your students!

Oh, let's be honest. All of those things are serious lost causes.

Anatomy of a Rumor: The Story Behind Chief Justice John Roberts’s ‘Retirement’ [Above the Law]