First media reports get details of rampage wrong
WASHINGTON — So much was misreported in the first few hours after the shooting rampage at Washington's Navy Yard.
Initial reports said that as many as three gunmen were involved. Then two. Then one. Then back to three. That four people were dead. But maybe six were. By midday, CNN had settled for “multiple.”
NBC and CBS identified a suspect by name. Except, as it turned out, he wasn't the suspect. Others reported that police were responding to a second shooting at Bolling Air Force Base in Southeast Washington. But then they weren't — there was no shooting there.
The erroneous reports weren't concocted. In most cases, they came directly from police sources and quickly bubbled up through the modern media ecosystem, hopping from law enforcement scanners to Twitter to traditional media reports, all within minutes.
Reporters are no better than their sources, and as sources, police scanners aren't very reliable. Although they are often the first public reports of a police or other public safety agency's response, scanner conversations usually contain numerous uncertainties in the fog of breaking events.
“People on Twitter take it for granted that ⅛scanner chatter⅜ is real and confirmed,” said Mark Brady, public information officer for the Prince George's County, Md., Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. It's not, he says. Reporting on such preliminary data, without official confirmation, “is asking for trouble.”
Mistaken reporting on big, breaking events has become almost standard in the social media age. Immediately after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December, for example, reporters picked up scanner transmissions of a police raid on a suspect in a Hoboken, N.J., apartment. The raid prompted two widely reported but mistaken stories: that “the shooter” had barricaded himself inside the apartment and that his name was Ryan Lanza.
In fact, Ryan Lanza wasn't inside and wasn't the suspect. The real shooter was his younger brother, Adam, dead at the scene in Connecticut.
Multiple news outlets tuned into scanners to report a “third” explosion during the Boston Marathon bombings last April. As it happened, the episode at the John F. Kennedy Library turned out to be a fire that was unrelated to the two blasts along the marathon route.
In 2009, CNN, Fox News and other TV stations caused a few moments of panic and a temporary shutdown of flights from Reagan National Airport when they reported that a Coast Guard patrol boat had fired on another vessel on the Potomac River just as President Obama was commemorating the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks at the Pentagon. The report of gunfire, based on Coast Guard scanner transmissions, turned out to be false. The Coast Guard had merely been conducting a drill.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- 28 evacuated as fire hits oil platform off Louisiana coast
- As oil production soars, so do pipeline leaks
- D.C. mansion murder suspect had help, police say
- Calif. farmers’ group will cut water use in historic deal
- Coal’s worst fears affirmed in analysis of Obama climate plan
- Police officials rethink approach to training
- Suspect in killings of wealthy D.C. family arrested
- Ex-Va. lawmaker plans to wed teen in sex scandal
- Senators push for full funding for Amtrak
- George Harrison guitar from 1963 fetches $490K at auction
- Experts cited concerns with medical scope infections in ‘09