The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

April 17, 2013

Note to CNN: Just the facts, please

By Mike Pound
news@joplinglobe.com

— Poor CNN. The Twitter jokes just keep coming.

As you may know by now, CNN — the 24-hour news network — reported early Wednesday afternoon that a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing had been arrested and was due in federal court later in the day. It was a dramatic, if not surprising, story. But it was also wrong.

I should point out that The Associated Press also reported that a suspect had been arrested and that this paper, which subscribes to the AP, ran the wire service’s story on its website. The story was quickly pulled when the AP corrected its error.

It’s about 2 p.m. as I type this, and it looks like CNN is all everyone can talk, or joke, about.

The following is just a small sample of some of the jokes at CNN’s expense that have popped up on Twitter.

“CNN: The most trusting name in news.”

“CNN now reporting they know what Willis was talking about.”

“Suspect now saying there may not be a CNN.”

It’s really sort of mean. It’s not as if CNN just screwed up on one of the biggest stories of the decade. Oh, wait, that’s exactly what CNN did.

I’m guessing that this is the discussion that took place among CNN folks before they went with their “suspect in custody” story.

Reporter: Boss, a guy just told me that the FBI has a suspect in custody.

Boss: Great. Get it on the air!

Lone Voice of Reason: Uh, shouldn’t we ask the FBI?

Pause.

Reporter and Boss: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Boss: Seriously, get it on the air.

To be fair, things have been moving fairly quickly in the bombing story, and it’s possible that by the time you read this, the FBI will have a suspect in custody.

But the thing is, there was no suspect in custody when CNN said there was.

By the way, as I’m typing this, I have CNN on the television in my office. One of the news anchors just said that there had been some “misleading” reports about a suspect being in custody, without mentioning that CNN had aired that misleading report.

See, I think that’s wrong, but it’s not surprising.

Big-time media types are sometimes quick to judge and criticize but slow to own up to their own mistakes.

Later, CNN’s John King did mention that CNN screwed up the story, but he went on to name the other news outlets that reported the same thing. King said he wasn’t mentioning the other news outlets to “spread the blame,” which, of course, was exactly what he was doing.

Mistakes in the media happen all the time, but seldom do they happen on a stage as big as the stage CNN was on when it made its news gaffe.

The problem, I suspect, lies in the media’s fascination with being the first to break a news story. It’s not enough to report the news accurately and fairly; it has to be reported first. News needs to be reported first, and if it happens to be accurate and fair, well, that’s just a bonus.

The thing is that no one — outside the folks in the big-time media — really remembers or even cares who gets a story on the air first. But, as CNN is finding out, people do care if someone screws up a story, and I’m guessing they won’t forget what happened.

Look, the Boston Marathon bombing is a story that has affected many people in this country in a deeply personal way. To make a mistake of this magnitude on this story was not only unprofessional, it was cruel.

Now, I’m sure that if in the next few hours a suspect is arrested, CNN will try to spin the story to say that the network was right all along.

I won’t buy it.

I won’t let CNN off the hook that easily. There is a reason why the majority of news outlets did not report Wednesday afternoon that a suspect had been arrested and was in custody: They couldn’t get those facts confirmed by people who would know.

And really, when it comes down to it, that’s all people want. Facts.



DO YOU HAVE AN IDEA for Mike Pound’s column? Call him at 417-623-3480, ext. 7259, or email him at mpound@joplinglobe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mikepoundglobe.