between the lines (2)

When does a news organization refuse to print idle speculation that is unsubstantiated by actual facts? That’s a hot topic in these days of fake news and inciteful diatribes by provocateur-commentator Alex Jones, whose “stories” have included accounts of how the Sandy Hook school murders were really hoaxes.

U.S. 1 waded into the morass on July 18, when it printed a letter from a reader praising a Route 1 gas station for charging less than its competitors, and for charging the same price whether one paid with cash or credit card. She also quoted an attendant who noted that other companies “watered down” their product to save money. No elaboration was offered.

In the August 8 issue another reader took issue, stating that the claim could have been “simply a tactic to demean other unnamed competitors.” This writer was “disappointed to see this letter published as it is, without at least an editorial footnote on the veracity of the claim.”

At the time we dismissed the original letter writer’s claim as “fanciful conjecture.” But, when one of our own staff members pointed out that water and gasoline never really mix, we took a closer look. A Google search revealed recent fuel quality inspections by the state Office of Weights and Measures. Based on unannounced tests at about 10 percent of the state’s gas stations, the state found only two selling fuel with octane levels lower than advertised — enabling the station to sell it for about 50 cents a gallon more than it was worth — figuratively speaking, “watering it down.”

The state inspections also resulted in citations against 20 stations for a variety of other violations, including failing to disclose higher credit card pricing. So we credit the “fanciful conjecture” with prompting us to look more deeply at the subject and for reminding consumers (of news or any other product) it is still caveat emptor.