Maybe it’s just my redneck nature, but I’m no fan of the Master’s tournament. So I admit to taking great delight in hearing that Anheuser-Busch had sent a thousand tee-shirts with the phrase “Dilly, Dilly ™” for fans to wear. There were widespread news reports that the Augusta National had added the phase to a list of banned terms and that spectators uttering these words would be escorted from the club. Anheuser-Busch seized on the marketing opportunity and responded in a humorous – and effective – manner. An amusing story that seemed to please most everyone.
Too bad the initial story wasn’t true.
Oh, Anheuser-Busch did indeed release the statement, which you can read here. But the Augusta National didn’t ban the phrase “Dilly, Dilly ™” as was reported. They don’t even have a list of banned phrases. You can read about it here on Yahoo News. Byce Ritchie, an editor for Bunkered, a Scottish golf magazine, tweeted that he had been told it was added to a list of banned terms, and the whole thing may have started there.
That the claim went viral is most instructive. My own impression of the Augusta National is that it’s, well, snobbish, and it seems I’m not alone. The idea that the club would ban certain phrases, including “Dilly, Dilly ™” seemed plausible based on that impression. It was precisely what I and others wanted to hear. And when Anheuser-Busch did a humorous response, it was simply icing on the cake. It fell into the category of “too good to check,” and, it seems, very few news outlets did.
See for yourself. Go to your search engine of choice and look for Masters Dilly, Dilly. See how many sources come back that treat the alleged ban as confirmed fact. When I first looked, only one of the initial results, the link at Yahoo News above, had actually bothered to check to see if the claim was true. Another web search today shows more casting doubt on the claim, yet the great majority treated the ban as though it were true.
So it was that, seconds after I told my wife about the claim (and yes, my initial inclination was that it was true without bothering to check), the news broke on a local TV station newscast, where it, too, treated the rumored ban as fact.
This, oddly, tied into a discussion elsewhere on bias, with one arguing that some historical claims required greater confirmation than others. Ironically, for someone who initially accepted the “Dilly, Dilly ™” story out of hand, I had argued that all historical accounts require precisely the same level of confirmation, as we’re most easily fooled when a historic account sounds like what we’d expect. Never did I dream I’d confirm it. And yet, as the Master’s “Dilly, Dilly ™” incident shows, it’s all too common a trap to fall into.
Does that excuse it? No. And that makes it sobering for a couple of reasons. For one, even those of us who’re cynical can fall into this. For another, how much of what we read or hear, whether it’s news or history, was actually fact checked and how much simply repeated on the assumption that someone else had already done so?
It’s something to keep in mind, even for ourselves. Especially for ourselves. If you pay attention, you’ll notice how easily others can succumb to bias and “too good to check.” It pays to remember that we aren’t exempt.