CNN Got Boston Bombing Coverage Wrong But They’re Not Alone

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America endured a nightmare last week along with the people of Boston, and in the midst of national tragedy came a debate about the media.

CNN, in its haste to be first with the news of a much awaited arrest of one of the murderers responsible for Marathon Monday’s cowardly attacks, came out quickly with an announcement that a bomber was in custody. Too quickly. At that point, the names Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had yet to even be associated with photos of the bombing suspects, the photos yet to be released.

The response from an American people already on edge was furious, and rightfully so. CNN got it wrong.
Very wrong.

And yet, now that time has passed, now that the more immediate matter of finding the suspects and providing Bostonians with their much-needed safety is over, it’s time we as Americans sit down and talk about the role we all play in how rumors are spread.

The media plays a role.

They always have.

Remember the name Eric Rudolph? You may or may not. But you certainly remember the name Richard Jewell, don’t you? He was the security guard who saw his life ruined when his name was — wrongly — linked to the bombing of the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996.

Rudolph later pleaded guilty, and he’s serving a life sentence, but Jewell carried that monkey on his back until his death in 2007.

The media is to blame for that. It behooves us all to use our power wisely, to check our facts, to put truth ahead of speed.

But it doesn’t stop there.

This responsibility extends to regular Joes too, to the very people throwing stones at CNN in the past few days.

In this day and age of social media, it might be said that an average American can have nearly as great an impact on the spread of information as a professional journalist.

As a professional journalist, that terrifies me.

Not because my job is threatened; I am prepared to adapt with the times. As a woman whose primary job – blogging – didn’t even exist when I graduated from high school; I already have.

I’m terrified because I see the careless nature in which information is spread by lay people.

The 24 hour news cycle may force media types to move quickly, but at least we still make attempts to source our information.

Regular Americans never even bother. They see something interesting, and with one click of a button, they pass it along. They “share” on Facebook or Twitter.

They convince their friends that an “Obamacare tax” is being added to your bill at retail stores (although even the IRS has discounted this so-called “fact”) and alarm their neighbors with warnings that a dangerous chemical known as dihydrogen monoxide is killing people (go back to ninth grade and you’ll recall that two hydrogens and one oxygen combine to make … water).

This is the power of the Internet, and it can be powerfully destructive.

All a bored overgrown teenage conspiracy theorist living in his mother’s basement has to do to spread lies these days is put up a Facebook post. Someone else sees it and shares it, and on it goes. The problem is that so few Americans bother to check whether they’re sharing something based on fact. Although they’re sitting in front of a computer using social media, they won’t even use the tools in front of them to do a simple Google check.

And the things they will share are often easily checked — and easily discounted.

Take, for example, a set of photos circulating last week that attempted to prove that Sandy Hook Elementary Principal Dawn Hochsprung had not been murdered in December but was alive and well and going by the name Donna, that she’d survived the Boston Marathon bombing.

Google Dawn Hochsprung, and you’ll find countless bits of credible evidence of her tragic death in Newtown, and no credible evidence that she had lived on.

The rumor was irresponsible, not to mention cruel to her family, still grieving their loss.

That they have been victimized again was not the fault of the media but of average Americans who engage in a dangerous game of telephone with information on the web.

The media has a responsibility to get right as much as we can. As professionals we should certainly be held to a higher standard than average Joes. By no means do I excuse the folks at CNN … or any news organization that jumps the gun on reporting bad information.

But if we want to stop the rapid fire spread of misinformation, we in the media can’t do it alone. We need you to stop listening to that that conspiracy theorist still living with Mom … or least make him back up his “facts” before you add to the cacophony of voices repeating them.

What’s the dumbest thing you’ve seen shared on the Internet lately?

Have you “liked” Inside Out Motherhood on Facebook yet?

Image via Mark Z./Flickr 

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