Saturday, September 12, 2009

"Wag The Dog" Meets 9/11

It was a sorry case of 'life imitating art' yesterday, during memorial services in Washington USA for the 9/11 tragedy. A Coast Guard exercise was mistaken for a terrorist attack: read all the Associated Press details here.
The whole thing may have gone unnoticed...except that two TV networks confused simulated chatter over a Coast Guard radio for actual events and reported that the Coast Guard had opened fire on a suspicious vessel. CNN stated 10 shots had been fired. The story hit social network Twitter: "Coast Guard confronts boat as Obama visits Pentagon, police scanner reports say shots fired." Fox News followed suit: "The U.S. Coast Guard ship of some type fired on a suspicious boat in the Potomac River." The public was panicked, the headlines blazed, the FBI was mobilised, flights briefly halted!
And so the story grew...
In fact, no shots were fired and there was no trouble on the river.
While hindsight might tell the Coast Guard that running an exercise of that type in that location on that day at that time was...err...less than tactful, the onus must fall heavily on the news outlets to GET IT RIGHT!
Just because it's heard on a radio...does not mean it's fact. Just because a Coast Guard spokesman doesn't know about it...doesn't mean it's an attack. Stories must always be verified from at least two sources...this is Journalism:101. When in doubt...get a man on the ground.
It's Wag The Dog revisited. Nice one, CNN and Fox!


Milo P.Stravos said...

It was unbelievable to hear this. All those horrible feelings resurfaced again! The news agencies must be reprimanded. Shame on them!

Richard said...

90% of the minions on Twitter are not journalists. Concepts like confirming with two (or any other source) never enters their mind.

As you state - its a reminder to the TV networks that while Twitter and social networking users now have the power to break news like lightning, normal journalistic practise by these networks is still required.

It's not required by the minions... they are usually the source.

PhilBee said...

True that Twitter sources are overwhelmingly "the public". Sadly though, the reported story on Twitter came from the well-respected REUTERS news service!! They (like CNN and FOX) should know better!