How the Rumor of Springsteen’s Possible Denver Appearance Spread

One of the sorriest spectacles at last month’s Democratic National Convention was the blizzard of erroneous news reports saying the program for Barack Obama’s stadium speech would include performances by Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi. The coverage was schizophrenic, with serial confirmations of the rumors on one hand and serial debunkings of them on the other. Not even an emphatic denial on Springsteen’s official Web site was enough to dissuade the hard-core believers in the press. How the story progressed from speculation to fact to bust provides an object lesson in the pitfalls of rumor reporting, celebrity-obsessed journalism, and the over-use of anonymous sources.

July 8
Rocky Mountain News columnist Mike Littwin wonders if Obama can get Springsteen for an opening act.
 
July 10
Rocky Mountain News music critic Mark Brown writes that unnamed local fans are looking at a gap in the Springsteen tour schedule that “happens to perfectly coincide” with the convention.

July 24
After band member Nils Lofgren tells a Denver radio station the Springsteen tour won’t be coming to town, the News’ Brown reports that unnamed fans “are still speculating Springsteen could show up solo…”
 
July 25
Rocky Mountain News columnist Penny Parker reports New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine has invited Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi to the convention.
 
August 6
Denver CBS affiliate KCNC-TV reports “high speculation” Springsteen will perform at the convention, according to a LexisNexis transcript.
 
August 17
Denver Post columnist Bill Husted suggests Springsteen is the “big act” rumored to accompany Obama’s speech.
 
August 19
National Public Radio sends correspondent Robert Smith to a Springsteen concert in Hershey, Pa., to interview fans for a piece that will run the morning of Obama’s speech.
 
August 21
“Insiders who would know say [the Springsteen performance is] a 95-percent sure thing,” Husted writes in the Post.

August 23
“The buzz has Bruce Springsteen giving a full concert before Barack Obama’s speech,” says Las Vegas Review-Journal gossip columnist Norm Clarke. He also says it in a guest column for the Rocky Mountain News, where he used to be the gossip writer.

CNN’s John King is scoping out the Illinois delegation’s seats at the front of the convention hall. “[I]f this were a Springsteen concert, this is where you would want to be,” he says.

August 24

Springsteen’s “The Rising” is played when Obama introduces running mate Joe Biden at a rally in Illinois. Politico gossip columnist Anne Schroeder’s analysis: “This makes the big, huge, hopeful rumor circulating Denver (sparked by some pretty high-up sources) seem like a go: On Thursday at Invesco Field, Bruce Springsteen will appear. And play.”

Clarke and Brown say unnamed sources have told them Bon Jovi will play before the speech and Springsteen after. An update to Brown’s post says no Springsteen.

Washington Post political gossip columnist Mary Ann Akers reports on the “feverish buzz” about Springsteen. She says an unnamed colleague told her that an unnamed traffic reporter said on an unnamed country music station that there will be traffic problems when Springsteen arrives.

Time magazine senior political analyst Mark Halperin says the rumors have turned out to be “definitively false,” but cites no sources.

August 25
As the convention opens, Denver CBS affiliate KCNC-TV reports Springsteen and Bon Jovi will perform Thursday night, citing “CBS4 partner the Rocky Mountain News.”

On the Rocky Mountain News Web site, Brown is reporting that unnamed “in-the-know sources high in the Springsteen camp” have unequivocally contradicted his previous informants, whom he now semi-identifies as “highly placed city and DNC-linked sources.” Brown also says for the first time that unnamed “organizers” have told him Springsteen was just one of many artists who were invited but didn’t accept. The Bon Jovi performance is “still in the works,” he says.
 
The Star-Ledger, in Springsteen’s home state of New Jersey, reports that “reps from the Springsteen camp” say he won’t be performing.

Toby Harnden, U.S. editor for The (London) Telegraph, says a “well-placed Democratic source” has confirmed the Springsteen performance.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper tells Wolf Blitzer that Springsteen is coming. “Bruce Springsteen — that will be pretty cool,” Blitzer replies. Cooper backpedals later in the broadcast: “I said earlier before, Bruce Springsteen was going to be playing on Thursday. There is a report out there. We have not been able to independently confirm that. That would obviously be something a lot of folks here would like to see.”

Gov. Corzine says he wanted to bring Springsteen to Denver but “wasn’t able to connect with him.”
 
August 26
United Press International picks up Brown’s Springsteen-is-coming story from Aug. 24, but not his Springsteen-isn’t-coming story from Aug. 25.
 
Denver Post music critic Ricardo Baca quotes an “artist’s representative” as saying Bon Jovi never had any plans to go to Denver. Washington Post music columnists J. Freedom du Lac and David Malitz say someone “in the Springsteen camp” told their paper the same thing about The Boss.
 
Brown blogs that he doesn’t know which of his sources to believe: the “impeccable” ones who “swear that Bruce Springsteen is closing out the acceptance speech at Invesco Field”; or the ones from “the Springsteen camp — from the very highest levels” who say “it’s just not happening.”

Roger Friedman of Fox News reports that Springsteen and Bon Jovi are “confirmed” to perform at Invesco.

August 27
CNN entertainment reporter Kareen Wynter quotes an unnamed Springsteen publicist as saying The Boss “will definitely not be there in any way, not performing, not attending, nothing.”

An associate editor for The Atlantic and two reporters for Politico quote emphatic denials from unnamed Obama aides.
 
Springsteen’s official Web site publishes this statement: “Just to add to what the Obama Campaign stated earlier today, while Bruce is an ardent and dedicated supporter of Senator Obama, he will not be performing at, and, in fact, had never planned to perform, at Invesco Field this Thursday.”
 
The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd says unnamed Democrats are worried Springsteen and Bon Jovi will reinforce Republican efforts to tar Obama as nothing more than a celebrity.

When the program for Invesco Field is released and neither Springsteen nor Bon Jovi are on it, ABC affiliate KMGH-TV in Denver declares the rumors “quashed.”

August 28
USA Today‘s Alan Gomez breaks with the pack by naming a source, Obama press secretary Dan Pfeiffer, who says Springsteen was never scheduled to perform.

The Telegraph‘s Harnden says yesterday’s conflicting reports “only added to the sense that Mr. Obama is desperate not to be linked to celebrities.”
 
Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News says the failure of the Springsteen rumor to come true is “leaving many to wonder whether he was asked to stay away.” 
 
The (London) Independent says “word has it” Springsteen will perform.
 
“Good Morning America”‘s Robin Roberts reports from Invesco Field that Springsteen and Bon Jovi will be performing there later in the day, according to a LexisNexis transcript.
 
National Public Radio runs its Aug. 19 interviews with Springsteen fans, who were asked to advise the Denver delegates on “proper stadium etiquette.”

The Rocky Mountain News is sticking with its story. Brown reports that “many high-placed sources expect Jon Bon Jovi to attend and perform.” Staff writer James Paton says, “Jon Bon Jovi will perform a solo acoustic act, and there’s an outside chance, very outside, that Bruce Springsteen will show up.” And staff writer Aaron J. Lopez reports, “there could be cameos by Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen.”
 
Inside the stadium, as a recorded Springsteen song plays over the public address system, CNN wistfully faces the music:

Blitzer: Anderson Cooper, we’re hearing some, I suspect that’s a little bit of Bruce Springsteen.
Cooper:
 Flexing his musical muscle, “Born in The USA.”
Blitzer:
 I don’t think he’s here, though, is he?
Cooper:
 No, there were rumors that he might be performing here, but no, this is not Bruce Springsteen performing live.
Blitzer:
 We can only dream, right?

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