Fake news isn’t going anywhere so long as there’s distrust for legitimate media outlets.

Coupled with the rise of for-profit hoax reporting, and the fact that the press is about as disliked and distrusted as Congress, you’d think newsrooms would start handling thinly sourced and sensational stories with greater care.

But some old habits are hard to break, I guess.

Consider, for example, how newsrooms covered the story of Yasmin Seweid, an 18-year-old Muslim woman from claimed this month that she was harassed and bullied in New York City by three Donald Trump supporters.

Her story appears to be a complete fabrication, according to police officials, but that part didn’t come out until long after media had given her initial tale a lot of uncritical press.

This is what Seweid claimed on Dec. 2 in a since-deleted Facebook post:

I initially was not planning on making a post about what happened yesterday, but you will probably be seeing stories about it on the news & in the newspaper tomorrow. I take the train every single day going to & coming from class, but yesterday, something happened that I never thought would happen to me. I was harassed on the subway last night and it was just so dehumanizing I can’t speak about it without getting emotional. Three white racists ripped the straps off my bag & attempted to yank my hijab off my head. They yelled such disgusting slurs at me, I was so helpless and felt defenseless. “Look it’s a f—king terrorist”, “go back to your country”, “take that rag off your head”, and so many more. Trump’s name was repeatedly said & it finally clicked in my head. No matter how “cultured” or “Americanized” I am, these people don’t see me as an American. It breaks my heart that so many individuals chose to be bystanders while watching me get harassed verbally and physically by these disgusting pigs. Trump America is real and I witnessed it first hand last night! What a traumatizing night. Please stay safe everyone & never let anyone take your rights away. Just thought I should share that with you all tonight.

Seweid’s story made a big splash in major newsrooms, as journalists were quick to document what appeared to be a Trump-related hate crime.

“Muslim Teen Verbally Attacked on Subway,” read a CBS News headline.

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Slate followed with a headline reading, “NY Subway Riders Stand By as Three Men Verbally Assault Muslim Teenager.”

“Three Drunks on a Train Harass Woman in Hijab, Commuters Do Nothing,” read Yahoo’s headline.

And so on.

But detectives could find no evidence of the incident, despite their best efforts. There were no photos. There were no videos. There were no witnesses. Seweid reportedly admitted Wednesday to fabricating the story, and she was arrested and charged with filing a false report. She was arraigned and released early Thursday morning.

“Nothing happened, and there was no victim,” a police source told the New York Daily News.

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Citing law enforcement officials, the same NYDN article added, “Seweid made up the story because she didn’t want to get in trouble for breaking her curfew after being out late drinking with friends.”

All that earlier breathless reporting looks pretty silly right now.

Sure, some of the initial news reports were careful to cite police officials who repeated her story, but it’s hard to look at those headlines and conclude that there was a possibility the incident didn’t occur. That is a journalism failure.

Much of this could have been avoided had newsrooms applied an ounce of skepticism to their initial coverage of her story. This isn’t to say media should be in the business of actively doubting claims of harassment. Rather, it’s to say reporters must work harder for proof. If they can’t find proof, then at least make it clear the story hinges entirely on the say-so of one person.

This clearly wasn’t done for Seweid, whose claim was repeated uncritically in headlines from coast to coast.

This brings us back to the earlier point about fake news: If media are interested in combatting the sort of hoax reporting that’s done for profit, they must work to re-establish their own credibility.

Bad and sloppy journalism obscures the line between fact and fiction, rendering entire media organizations untrustworthy. If newsrooms don’t work harder to protect their credibility, audiences will continue to search out better and more reliable sources of information, and the fake news grifters will continue to take advantage of the growing demand for trustworthy reporting.

To the end of regaining that trust, a good start would be for newsrooms to work harder to verify things like sensational Facebook posts before reporting on them.

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