Back in the good old days, when there were only three evening network news shows or you had to wait until morning to get the paper, journalists had the luxury of time to confirm information and get it right. That's why, for the most part, people trusted the news. But now, in the age of 24 hour cable stations and the internet and social media, news organizations don't think they have that luxury. The need to be first trumps the need to be right. That's why you'll see such ludicrous things as cable news "professionals" checking their cell phone Twitter feeds on air just to have something to report, accuracy be damned.
The advent of citizen investigative journalism on sites like Reddit and Twitter haven't helped. These usurpers aren't necessarily any more accurate (the floating that one of the suspects was actually missing college student Sunil Tripathi originated with a high school friend who thought she recognized him from the initial fuzzy photos released by the FBI). But they do prove a competitive thorn in the side of an industry that already suffers from a plethora of choices.
Nevertheless, there were some massive failures on the part of the media this week that were absolutely inexcusable and the death knell to the credibility of those outlets. With no independent confirmation, outlets like CNN and NewsCorp pointed fingers at and published pictures of innocent bystanders and even impeded investigations by having their social media people tweet out information gleaned off the police scanner, even after the FBI expressly asked them not to, because the information was chaotic and inaccurate.
Now one would think that the criticism and mocking these outlets have taken might be a point of some soul searching, some rethinking of the way information is disseminated. But not if one is Jeff Zucker, new boss of CNN and Rupert Murdoch of NewsCorp.
Zucker actually sent his underlings a "you're do a heckuva job" memo in the midst of them getting so very much wrong.
At the end up one of the busiest news weeks in recent memory–for CNN and every other major media organization–Jeff Zucker delivered his gratitude to his CNN staff in an internal memo obtained by POLITICO’s Dylan Byers.
Beginning with the declaration, “What a week,” Zucker goes on to praise his team for their “exceptional work.” He wrote, “It was important to see CNN, CNN.com, HLN and CNNI all shine this week,” and let the full staff know, “you have shown the world what makes us CNN.”
Zucker dismissed the criticism levelled at his organization as so much "jealousy". Uh huh. Sadly, Rupert Murdoch offered a similar, albeit more abridged defense of his multiple news platforms:
Rupert Murdoch belatedly came to the defense of his newspaper, tweeting: "All NYPost pics were those distributed by FBI. And instantly withdrawn when FBI changed directions." Murdoch did not go into detail about how exactly a newspaper can "instantly withdraw" a front page already published, although perhaps that would have taken more than 140 characters (and harnessing the power of the space-time continuum) to explain.
Among the mistakes the Post made this week: they inaccurately reported 12 people had died in the blast (three did); they claimed a Saudi man was a "suspect" in "custody", when he wasn't; and most prominently, they plastered the photos of two "suspects" on the front page with the headline "Bag Men." They didn't outright say these two people were the bombers, but they did everything they could to insinuate it. Of course, it later turned out that neither men were really suspects, and one was a high school student who went to the police on his own to clear his name.
As Murdoch referenced in his non-apology tweet, the Post cited an email law enforcement officials sent among themselves that read: "the attached photos are being circulated in an attempt to identify the individuals highlighted therein. Feel free to pass this around to any of your fellow agents elsewhere." Post editor-in-chief Col Allan issued his own statement Thursday in which he also defended the paper's publication of the photographs: "We stand by our story. The image was emailed to law enforcement agencies yesterday afternoon seeking information about these men, as our story reported," he wrote. "We did not identify them as suspects." These were photos, mind you, that no other major publications saw fit to print on their front pages. Other publications—such as the NY Times—were able to control themselves and wait for more definite reports before running such stories, despite being presented with the same information.
But according to the men that helmed the organizations, these two "news" giants did wonderfully well.
I think we might need to establish bloggers ethics panel to teach the news media how to do their damn jobs.