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F1 Reporting Interests Me, Part 2

It’s been a bit of a slow learning process for me, discovering the extent to which a given story reported in the F1 media ought to be taken at face value.  However, I can say now that I’ve finally figured out a few things.  When a news item appears in one of the more comprehensive feeds, one then needs to ask oneself: “On how many — and which — sites is this story being reported?”  The answer to that question will provide evidence allowing one to assign a mental “probability of accuracy (POA)” value to the story.

I’d share with you my method of determining the POA, but it’s fantastically complicated and involves sophisticated vector calculus, the description of which is really beyond the scope of this blog.  It’s also not foolproof, I’m afraid.  Confounding variables can often throw the whole thing off.  An example would be the story reported not too long ago about Bruno Senna being very close to landing Jarno Trulli’s Lotus seat for 2011.  This (plausible!) story ended up being assigned a higher POA than it actually deserved, on the basis of various factors related to how widely and by whom it was reported.

Then there are the stories that seem a bit too bizarre to be true, but you’re left thinking, “But if this isn’t true, it would mean that someone made up whole quotes out of thin air, which seems a bit much!”  Inaccurate information being leaked to the press is one thing; totally fictional quotes — or, say, an entire fictional newspaper column — is something else.

This past week, beloved former F1 driver and world champion Mika Häkkinen was reported as saying some not-very-nice things about Michael Schumacher in a column written for the German newspaper TZ. My first thought upon reading his comments was “Mika!!!” Not that I’m some expert on the man, but on the basis of what I do know he does not strike me as the sort of person to talk smack about. . . well, anyone, really.  Talking smack = not his style.  But. . . a whole column!  Did someone just make it up?  This concept strained credulity to the point where I didn’t even consider it.  My whole POA calculation was thrown off entirely.  In fact, no calculation was possible.

Well, as everyone who read the original story must now surely know, the entire column was apparently made upReally?! I have heard of the concept of someone else writing something — column, foreword to a book, what have you — that is then presented to a driver for his approval, at which point he will agree to have his name attached to it.  Could that really be what happened here?  Would a journalist really write something so provocative and assume that Mika Häkkinen would then agree to put his name to it?  And possibly be so sure of that that he wouldn’t bother getting his approval first?  Again: really?!

“The statements attributed to Mr Hakkinen, particularly in relation to Michael Schumacher, were not true and were not authorised.

“We regret this and apologise to our readers, to Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher, and as a consequence we are no longer working with the staff member concerned,” added TZ.

So, for that “staff member,” a sackable offense.  For me, yet another learning experience — one that will, in the future, lead to valuable refinements to my POA model.

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