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Boston Bombing Coverage

September 17, 2013

With yesterday’s shooting at the United States Navy Yard in Washington, DC, it made me think back to other recent event in our country that have gained national attention.

On yesterday’s blog post, I examined the breaking news coverage of the event by both CNN and FOX News. So, for today, I thought it would be interesting to look back and see how the media covered an event as it unfolded in hindsight.

Joanne Ostrow is a television critic for The Denver Post. On the evening of the event, she described the “sketchy” information that had been reported so far by CBS, NBC, ABC and CNN. It’s clearly proof of how fluid a breaking news story can be.

Something very interesting to me in this case was the use of social media by the police to spread the word and help capture the suspects. The “guy in the white hat” became known around the country and really around the world when the Boston Police released the following tweet.

Also very interesting was the coverage by reporters or just every day citizens who happened to be on the ground while the hunt for the suspect was under way in the Boston suburb of Watertown. Here are several of the tweets from the scene by reporters and just normal citizens as things were unfolding.

A lot more information about how Twitter was used during the Boston Bombings can be found on Twitter’s blog.

However, CNN really took a lot of scrutiny over its coverage of the bombing. Two days after the event, CNN reporter John King stated that he had confirmed with several of his sources that a “dark-skin male” suspect was in custody in relation to the bombing. While this was being reported live on the air, CNN was showing a live aerial shot of the courthouse in downtown Boston with a large group of people, including a huge number of police officers, standing outside.

As the hour went on, John King and CNN had backtracked on their statement of a suspect in custody. Someone had to be wondering why they were the only news outlet to be reporting this information. That’s because it was false. There was no suspect in custody, and the large crowd outside the courthouse was because there had been a bomb threat made, and the building was evacuated for safety precautions. A complete rundown of CNN’s gaffe can be found here.

John King clearly wanted himself and CNN to be first, and didn’t worry about accuracy in this situation. As I recall watching television coverage as this happened, I heard King’s report and then switched over to several other news outlets, and heard no such report. I actually even remember reporters on both FOX News and MSNBC saying that CNN’s report was false and that no arrest had been made.

When covering a breaking news event, information is always fluid and ever-changing. As I showed earlier in this post, there was a lot of information which was false on the first day of the event immediately after it had taken place. However, John King’s reporting of this story was clearly unnecessary. In an attempt to try and make CNN and himself look good by getting the story first, he failed to focus on accuracy, and in the end created a huge embarrassment for his network.

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