UPDATE: Whatever Happened To Fact-Checking? The Ruben Mejia Story

Sara Imjan/Alejandro De La Cruz on Wednesday, May. 4th

Last night, it was just a few small advocacy websites running with the appealing narrative of a Navy SEAL named Rubén Mejía who was reported to be on the team that killed Osama bin Laden– and also reported to be the son of Mexican immigrants originally from Guanajuato.

Riddled with drama, the story appears to be the byproduct of a proud father getting carried away on a Los Angeles radio station. What was to be a simple and heartfelt gesture has turned into a battle between truth and fiction.

Turnstyle spoke with the Mejia family’s neighbor Michael Weir. He said Ruben’s father became overly zealous during a radio interview. “Ruben is really mad at him for it,” Weir says.

As the story goes, Martin Mejia placed a call to La Raza 97.9 [Ed note: they have still not returned our calls] on May 2 to dedicate a song to his son. Unfortunately, the innocent call turned into a tall tale that has since been filtered through newswires across the world.

When mainstream media heard about the story, Weir says they descended on the Mejia’s home in Perris, CA. “That evening, CNN, Telemundo, KNBC, CBS all came, but the story didn’t add up,” said Weir. Which means the story ends there.

But the news had already run on one of Mexico’s largest news outlets, El Universal (link in Spanish) through the Notimex wire, with details extracted from the father’s exaggerated story. Mejía’s father purported to have gotten a visit from the U.S. military– which, as has been widely reported, is NOT releasing the names of the SEAL team, or even acknowledging that the SEAL Team 6 that supposedly carried out the raid exists.

Then this morning, the story made the jump to more credible journalistic outlets — which reported it with very little skepticism, or skepticism that’s buried halfway down, if it shows up at all.

Add the hundreds of Twitter profiles retweeting the story — including a tweet by gossip blogger Perez Hilton that has inspired a barrage of retweets from his followers — and you have an unverified story careening throughout the internet with people assuming it’s fact.

We were dismayed to see traditional journalists pick up the story in this way. Oh, we get it: for progressive American journalists, and the Mexican media, the story is a vindicating narrative of immigrant valor in a year filled with anti-immigrant legislation and rhetoric. It offers an opportunity to raise awareness around these issues in the context of one of the biggest stories of the year. But all of this assumes that in one of the biggest stories of the year, a central fact clearly refuted by the U.S. government has leaked out and escaped the notice of every major media outlet pursuing this story with aplomb. Here are some of the political connections the aforementioned blogger-journalists are reaching for, that make us wonder if they’re being too credulous:

While this point has been celebrated by some, news of Meija’s involvement raises serious questions around the military’s recruitment of Latino youth, the staggering numbers of Latino war causalities, and the Obama administration’s often contradictory messages on immigration reform.

Reporting an unverified story like this one does a disservice to the larger narrative these outlets were ostensibly pursuing.

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