Competition and UntruthsCompetition and Untruths

Boston Bombing April 14, 2014

In any situation the media compete. To be first, to have more facts, be on-site, better interviewees. And in a crisis that competition is huge. Better story, bigger audience, more advertising income.

And so CNN and others said two days after the Boston bombs that an arrest had been made. They quoted ‘unnamed police sources’. A significant and eye-catching development in the story. But it was not true.

The backlash, both in mainstream media and social media like Twitter was huge. It attracted headlines such as 'TIMELINE OF A DEBACLE: CNN BLOWS NEWS OF BOSTON BOMBING ARREST' and 'CNN, Fox News, AP Forced To Walk Back Reports Of Boston Bombing Arrests.'

What's more amazing is that the 'source' presumably just briefed one media - the others stole the story to keep up, clearly without checking its integrity. If indeed there ever was a 'source'. 

The Audience has a right to truth. ‘Facts are sacred’ – said as long ago as 1921 by C.P. Scott, editor of the UK Manchester Guardian. The hazard of high-speed journalism is that often this isn't the case.

Of course no reporter goes to work to do badly, quite the opposite. They all believe in the truth. However there is still internal completion in a newsroom to get the best story, first. Mistakes happen under such pressure. Lies and invention follow. 

It’s difficult, but unless we can rely on the media, and trust the facts, the value of the media is nothing. And in a democracy that critical pillar is missing if care and restraint are missing. ‘First’ yes. But it should always be ‘First with the Truth’.