By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
August 11, 2013

FORTUNE — The lead item on Techmeme Sunday morning — to which 33 headlines attached themselves like pilot fish feeding on the scraps of a shark’s kill — was Ina Fried’s piece in AllThingsD reporting that (according to anonymous “sources”) Apple has scheduled a special event for Thursday Sept. 10 to unveil the next iPhone.

This is the way Apple (AAPL) rumors disseminate through the media food chain.

  • A reporter with some street cred — which Fried has in spades — gets a tip, does some reporting and gets what feels like confirmation
  • He or she posts the putative scoop in an outlet with a track record for getting stuff like this right
  • Reporters and editors who’ve learned from long experience that Apple stories drive page views, take the scoop, slap a new headline on it, and feed it to their readers

Nobody bothers to ask Apple if the rumor is true. That’s because every reporter who’s been in the business more than a week knows that if they did, they’d be told that Apple doesn’t comment on rumors.

Most reporters will cover the fact that they have no independent confirmation through one of a handful of headline tricks. The more honorable ones will acknowledge the source by name. Others will throw in a caveat —  “sources say,” “reportedly,” “may,” “expected to” — or simply put a question mark on the end of their headline.

A handful of the stories in the list above report the rumor as fact, without caveat or question mark. Most of them have little or no value to add. Steve Kovach’s headline on Business Insider, for example, boldly declares that “Apple Will Announce its Next iPhone on September 10,” but if you click his link you discover that, like the others, he’s just piggybacking on Fried’s report. Ray Basile does the same on iPhone Savior. So does Juli Clover on MacRumors and — to my surprise — so does AppleInsider‘s Daniel Eran Dilger.

Me, I have no independent knowledge and nothing to add.

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