Mainstream Media Misinformation en Masse

By Dane Feldman

Screen shot courtesy of CNN/YouTube.

The mainstream media has dealt out a slew of incorrect information in the wake of the Boston Marathon twin bombings that occurred at Monday’s race. Almost everything that could have gone wrong for some major news outlets has in the few days that followed Monday’s horrific events.

First, false statements regarding the fire at JFK library reported that the fire was likely directly linked to the bombs set off on Boylston St. Sensibly, the fire initially caused speculation and concerns from Boston officials that the two events were connected, but such speculation was later thwarted. No one was injured in the library fire.

Almost immediately after the bombs went off, Wolf Blitzer of CNN falsely claimed the explosions occurred a mile from the finish line, based on an interview with an eye witness who repeatedly mentioned that he “didn’t have a great look” at the incident. This was the first of CNN’s multiple mistakes.

The New York Post wrongly reported 12 deaths and over 50 injuries while other sources were writing that the bombs had claimed only two deaths and well over 100 injuries. Even The Wall Street Journal made false claims about the events that transpired on Monday. The paper incorrectly reported that, “police had found five additional explosive devices, on top of the two that had been deployed.” Authorities dismissed this immediately.

The media seemed to settle down after the Post’s incorrect claims. Then on Wednesday, the FBI ripped apart some of the biggest names in mainstream media for their false reports. The Boston Globe, CNN, Fox News, and even the Associated Press were all scolded by the FBI via press release for saying that the police had a suspect in custody and that arrests had been made. According to The New York Times, both CNN and Fox News “spent about an hour discussing the news of an arrest with various correspondents and experts before backing off when they received further information.” In the same report, The New York Times makes it clear that their own paper refrained from making such false claims.

CNN at first reported that the suspect in custody was a dark-skinned male. Since this report, Boston officials have confirmed instead that the suspects are two white males from Chechnya. However, CNN is not the only source to falsely identify the suspects as non-white. The New York Post claimed the suspect taken into custody was a Saudi Arabian male. (This was also before any suspect had been confirmed at all.) Other sources supposedly identified the suspect as missing Brown University student, Sunil Tripathi. These accusations have since been cleared. Tripathi is still missing, however.

Later, The New York Post also suggested that the suspect was high school student Salah Barhoum. Barhoum followed the advise of a friend who told Barhoum to go to the police and clear his name. He is appalled at the accusations and believes that racial profiling is to blame. The Post has been slammed for this claim along with all of its other more egregious claims in the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings.

Judy Muller, a former network news correspondent who teaches Journalism at the University of Southern California, told BTR, “I fear we have permanently entered the ‘Age of the Retraction.’ All the lessons of the past — from Richard Jewell to NPR’s announcement of the death of Gabby Giffords to CNN’s erroneous report on the Supreme Court Ruling on ObamaCare — fail to inform the present. The rush to be first has so thoroughly swallowed up the principle of being right and first that it seems a little egg on the face is now deemed worth the risk.”

Meanwhile, it appears that other renowned sources like Huffington Post and USA Today have been reporting the events with flawless accuracy. The two sources have been, in part, the face of professional and responsible journalism in the wake of the bombings. Perhaps the bulk of the mainstream media will follow in their footsteps and proceed with caution after learning from their irreparable mistakes. The “Age of Retraction” is no excuse for such irresponsibility.

On Thursday evening, authorities confirmed that the two suspects are brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev from Chechnya. The manhunt for them began late Thursday night and has so far resulted in the death of one MIT campus policeman, an injured transit officer along with the death of Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Authorities are still searching for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev who is still at large. Earlier today, Gov. Deval Patrick ordered for residents of Boston and surrounding areas not to leave their homes. The order is expected to remain in place way until the second suspect is in custody.

Thankfully, reporters have honored the requests of authorities and are now doing a better job staying out of the way as well as publishing factual information.

UPDATE, 7:18 pm EST: The lockdown has been lifted and public transportation in the Boston area has been restored as of 6:42 pm today. The Associated Press and CNN are reporting now that shots have been fired in Watertown, Mass.