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Erroneous reporting obfuscates Boston bombing coverage

First of all, my apologies. I guess I lied to you when I said article number 100 was my last column. I couldn't stay away for long, not when gave in to my request for a sports column. So, if you're not already privy to the fact, I am now also the Minneapolis Pro Sports Examiner. If you have an interest in sports, I urge you to check out my new column. And, if you like what you see, please subscribe. It's free and you will be emailed my latest columns.

Alright, since that's out of the way allow me to delve into what's foremost on my mind: Inaccurate journalism and what can be done about it - and no, I'm not just referring to the content of my columns. During the unfolding investigation in the Boston bombing case, the media was criticized for jumping to conclusions and making inaccurate reports in an effort to be first with information...and rightly so. The 24-hour news cycle means steep competition amongst cable networks, all eager to be the first with the scoop. The confusion surrounding the unfolding search for suspects in the bombing led to unfounded reports of a Saudi national being a 'person of interest' in the case, as well as incorrect reports of more explosive devices planted elsewhere in Boston.

On The Daily Show, comedian Jon Stewart mocked CNN for its reporting "exclusive" saying the term actually meant completely fing wrong. He proceeded to play several clips of Wolf Blitzer bragging of the network's "exclusive reporting" of the (initial) arrest of a suspect in the case.

"Did any of your sources end their tip-offs with the phrase 'Ba ba booey?'" Stewart said, later calling it a "news story as imagined by M. Night Shyamalan."

When CNN erroneously reported the arrest made in the Bombing, the FBI had to issue this statement:

"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."

This may have been a first in the annals of broadcast media: The police reprimanding media outlets for impeding their investigation. There are plenty of good things that can come out of real-time news reports in the wake of a tragedy, even if some of those reports prove wrong. But when the incident involves terror felt at a national level, inaccurate reports can often have the adverse effect of terrorizing the community even further. The predisposition of news organizations to place blame at the feet of Muslims, Arabs, or any given "dark skinned individual" not only is misleading, it's dangerous. Furthermore, it casts unnecessary suspicions on a large group of people with no specifics on identifying the real suspect.

So what can be done about this? Perhaps nothing. As I mentioned earlier, broadcast media is too competitive in the modern age with too many different networks vying for the breaking story. About all we can do is hope that those with influence - like Stewart, for instance - can persuade news organizations into upholding a higher standard of journalism for the public's sake; because, who knows, there may come a time when all of our lives depend on it.


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