CURRY: The Boston Marathon's Media Frenzy
George E. Curry | 4/24/2013, 9 p.m.
The Associated Press, Fox News, and the Boston Globe also mistakenly reported that a suspect had been arrested in the case. The reporting was so inaccurate that the FBI issued a statement that said:
"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."
The Boston Police Department scooped journalists when it announced Friday, via Twitter, that an arrest had been made in the case.
In view of the grievous errors made in covering high-profile crimes, news outlets should spend less time showing yellow police tape, flashing police lights and hyping their own reporters and more time explaining to the public that in an ongoing investigation, they will not get the facts before the next commercial break.
We should have learned this lesson from the experience of covering Newtown, Conn., when there were conflicting accounts on everything from whether Adam Lanza had forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School or had been buzzed in to whether he or his brother, Ryan, was the shooter.
As President Obama said, "In this age of instant reporting and tweets and blogs, there's a temptation to latch on to any bit of information, sometimes jumping to conclusions. But when a tragedy like this happens, with public safety at risk and the stakes so high, it's important that we do this right. That's why we have investigations. That's why we relentlessly gather the facts."
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @currygeorge.