WASHINGTON -- All it takes is one little twit. Or a tweet, as the case may be -- not that the two are mutually exclusive.
In fact, very likely the person who recently started a rumor about South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley was trying to create that idiot's delight -- "buzz" -- for his blog. Or whatever little virtual temple he had erected to himself.
So it goes in the ridiculous political arena in which we now find ourselves.
The rumor -- that Haley was about to be indicted for tax fraud -- was so delicious that other bloggers, tweeters and even some mainstream media outlets felt compelled to repeat it.
Except that it wasn't true. Not even a little bit. Some twit thought it would be fun to start a rumor and see what happened next. We all know what happens: Indictments spread like wildfire; corrections couldn't roast a marshmallow.
The damage took only a couple of hours. And Haley, a rising star in the Republican Party and a possible vice presidential pick for Mitt Romney, is all too aware of the potential cost to her reputation. She's been through this before. While she was running in the Republican primary for governor, two men stepped forward to claim sexual dalliances with the married mother of two.
Obviously, South Carolinians either didn't buy it or didn't care. The attack was so vile and, frankly, not so credible that voters reacted by checking the box by Haley's name. Her popularity as governor ebbs and flows as these things go, but her appeal as a national figure does not seem affected by local attacks. She's going to be around for a long time.
Meanwhile, what Haley experienced as a target of the rumor mill should be of more general concern to everyone. The New York Times tracked the path of the Haley/tax rumor to show how quickly it traveled from a small spark in the fevered brain of a political enemy into a bonfire of inanity. It began with a blog item, then was tweeted by The Hill, a Washington political newspaper, and reported in a short article by The Daily Beast.
All of this happened between 12:52 p.m., when the blog post went online, and 1:12 p.m., when a reporter for USA Today actually decided to call Haley's office and find out if the story was true. Give that reporter a raise! But the rumor was retweeted at 1:14 by a Washington Post reporter and later picked up by online outlets Daily Kos and The Daily Caller. By 3:29, The Drudge Report linked to the Daily Caller article featuring the headline: "Report: DOJ may indict SC Gov. Nikki Haley for tax fraud."
The next morning, The State newspaper, South Carolina's largest, had a front-page story. All in a day's whisper.
Copyright 2012 Washington Post Writers Group