Always give it three days. This is a golden rule of journalism that requires reporters and commentators to wait when speculating on big salacious stories.
It's a rule that works, but not when it's ignored, as it has been by both sides of the political spectrum in the case of the attack on Paul Pelosi, the husband of the Speaker of the House. Democrats pounced, as usual, on their claims of MAGA extremism; meanwhile, too many on the right have indulged in disgusting conspiracy theories about the assault.
On Sunday morning, less than two days after the...

Always give it three days. This is a golden rule of journalism that requires reporters and commentators to wait when speculating on big salacious stories.

It’s a rule that works, but not when it’s ignored, as it has been by both sides of the political spectrum in the case of the attack on Paul Pelosi, the husband of the Speaker of the House. Democrats pounced, as usual, on their claims of MAGA extremism; meanwhile, too many on the right have indulged in disgusting conspiracy theories about the assault.

On Sunday morning, less than two days after the news of the assault broke, the new Twitter head honcho Elon Musk weighed in. Responding to a tweet by Hillary Clinton alleging a political motive, Musk tweeted that there was a tiny chance that something else had prompted the violence. He linked to a now-removed “news” story from a site about as trustworthy as a three-dollar bill that made a provocative claim against Paul Pelosi that I will not repeat here. This is the guy who promises to make Twitter a better and more responsible commons. Musk later deleted the tweet.

Meanwhile, Charlie Kirk — whose organization Turning Point USA has made him one of the most influential voices on the right, especially among young conservatives — took to social media to ask a “patriot” to bail out David DePape, the suspected attacker, in order to get at the truth. Aside from this sounding a lot like Kamala Harris pitching for people to bail out 2020 rioters, it would put someone who seems to be a dangerous lunatic back on the streets.

Across conservative Twitter, though thankfully not in responsible outlets, all kinds of weird conspiracies about what DePape was doing at the Pelosi residence have been bandied about. Most share in common a vilification of Paul Pelosi and an absolute dearth of anything approaching actual evidence. The general attitude seems to be that these voices don’t trust the authorities, and are just asking questions, even if the questions just happen to paint Pelosi as some kind of sex fiend. This is not good enough.

From the moment the attack took place, many journalists, myself included, found the early details perplexing and a bit suspicious. There was a lot of back-channeling, sharing speculation on possible motives and also public statements suggesting things weren’t adding up. That’s all perfectly fine and how the news is supposed to operate. But these questions very quickly devolved into defamatory speculation.

By Tuesday morning, as DePape prepared to appear in court, the narrative that he was known to Pelosi or an invited guest was falling apart. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has definitively called it a break-in, as have police and prosecutors. Early reports that the suspect was in his underwear have been walked back. We now know that DePape came with zip ties in his bag, and told police he was there to get “the truth” out of Nancy Pelosi. Yet the conspiracy theories are still zipping around an incredulous right-wing Twittersphere.

Let’s be clear: the Democrat chorus that this attack is the fault of Donald Trump and MAGA extremism is ridiculous, as are their appeals for Republicans to stop running attack ads a week before the election. By all accounts, DePape is a deranged man and there is little to suggest that anyone is responsible for his behavior but himself. His political alignment appears as schizophrenic as his violent actions. All of this should be front and center in our coverage of the story — as should the fact that the Pelosi case is just another example of violent crime in deep blue areas of the country growing out of control. We don’t need conspiracy theories.

Some on the right say that promoting baseless speculation is just fighting fire with fire, that we need to play this game too. Nothing could play more completely into the hands of the far left. This is a battleground of progressives’ choosing. They want a news environment in which nothing is real, everything is partisan and you are free to ignore and even disdain the other side.

If conservatives adopt these despicable tactics, they will lose the war for our culture and society before a shot is even fired. You beat conspiracy theories with truth and facts, not by inventing more and more disgusting conspiracy theories of your own.

So always wait three days. It keeps credibility intact — and at the end of the day, there is nothing more important to journalism than that.