Yesterday CNN had a terrible news day, first reporting that a suspect had been arrested in connection with the Boston marathon bombings and then having to retract the story. You can see the time sequence of the CNN debacle here.
In fact, even the FBI seems to have got so fed up with fact-free speculative reporting that they issued a stern statement denouncing these false reports and essentially asking reporters to put a sock on it.
Contrary to widespread reporting, no arrest has been made in connection with the Boston Marathon attack. Over the past day and a half, there have been a number of press reports based on information from unofficial sources that has been inaccurate. Since these stories often have unintended consequences, we ask the media, particularly at this early stage of the investigation, to exercise caution and attempt to verify information through appropriate official channels before reporting.
People have been making fun of CNN, with this column by humorist Andy Borowitz being one example of the parodies.
Authorities who have spent the past forty-eight hours combing CNN in the hopes of finding any information whatsoever have called off their search, they confirmed today.
“After monitoring every minute of CNN’s broadcast since Monday, we have found hearsay, rumors, falsehoods, and a steady stream of inane commentary,” one authority said. “Everything but information.”
Paul Waldman says that this kind of nonsense arises from the fact that the media seem to have trouble distinguishing real scoops from phony ones.
Scoops are beside the point. When Americans are looking to learn about and understand this kind of horrible event, they don’t care whether you got a scoop. They want to understand what happened. I don’t think the news organizations, particularly the TV networks, understand this at all.
There are two kinds of scoops, the real and the ephemeral. A real scoop is a story that would not have come to light, either at all or at least for a considerable amount of time, had it not been for your reporting.
Then there’s the far more common kind, what many in the media consider a scoop but is no scoop at all. That’s when you discover and publish some piece of information that everyone is going to learn very soon, but you happen to be the one who got it out ten minutes or ten seconds before your competitors.
Media organizations, particularly television news operations, are obsessed with this second kind of scoop, despite the fact that not only does it offer nothing of value to their audience, it doesn’t even give them any advantage in the hyper-competitive arena in which they operate.
But if you’re obsessed with getting it first, you end up not getting it right.
You would think that CNN of all news outlets would have learned this lesson after they and Fox News, in their desire to beat the competition by a couple of minutes, wrongly reported the US Supreme court verdict on Obamacare.