Jam of the week: "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk
Thankfully, I've only felt compelled to write two columns criticizing media coverage of national tragedies during my time at The Daily Freeman-Journal. The first was after the Newtown shooting, the second was last week after the Boston bombings.
In my last column, I briefly criticized CNN for jumping the gun on calling what happened an act of terrorism. Even if they were eventually right, it seemed out of place when they used the term shortly after a Presidential address that notably didn't mention terrorism. Another criticism I levied was against the New York Post for reporting that over a dozen people were reported dead after the explosions, when in actuality, only three people were killed.
It's not enjoyable to continually mull over the errors of people who share a career in journalism. However, I felt justified when both of those news outlets continued to err after my column was published.
Last Wednesday, CNN broke the news that a suspect was in custody. They initially reported that the suspect was dark-skinned and that a couple sources confirmed that he was in custody. In an hour that I'm sure will haunt the news network for some time, they began to walk back on their report when they received information that didn't fit with their initial report. They eventually said they had no idea what was going on, and later had a source come on air to say that no suspect was in custody.
As we know now, there were two suspects named who were unquestionably caucasian. I have seen few moments on live television that were as bizarre as watching CNN anchors checking their phones in near silence trying to confirm what exactly was going on.
Before those suspects were identified, the FBI received thousands of tips and leads from online sleuths who poured over photos taken before, during and after the bombings. They hoped to find suspicious people in those images that could reveal the perpetrators of the bombings. However, rather than helping the investigation, FBI officials decided to release photos of the two actual suspects on Saturday in part to limit the damage of people falsely accusing people seen in those photos.
The New York Post ran with the story that was cultivated through social media websites like Reddit, which identified two people with black backpacks that were seen in photos of the Boston Marathon crowd. Their headline last Thursday read "Bag Men," and said that federal officials were seeking those people as suspects. Those "bag men" were actually innocent high school students, but horseshoes and hand grenades right?
Sometimes it's worth pointing out the errors people make in the media so that people are not misinformed. It can be worth pointing out those errors because you want those media outlets to get better. However, sometimes you see error after error, made in the same manner.
In what was less of an error in reporting and more of a gaffe, but is certainly worth noting, a CNN reporter made the most obvious and painful statement possible on the emptiness of the streets during the manhunt. CNN National Correspondent Susan Candiotti said, "Being in Watertown right now, the streets are empty. It's eerie. It's as though a bomb had dropped somewhere."