One of the most frequently-heard words when my cronies and I discuss the state of news today is “mediocrity”. The recent coverage of the failed Times Square bomber illustrated the point to me.
After 9-11, law enforcement and public safety agencies said one of the biggest problems was timely sharing of information – everything from NYPD not being able to monitor NYFD radio transmissions, to the FBI, CIA, and NSA not talking to each other.
Nearly ten years later, here in Dane County, we’re STILL fighting about a radio system that would allow all the cops, firefighters, and EMT’s in the county to “hear” each other when there’s an emergency. Here, it’s a fight about who’s going to pay for, not about whether it’s needed.
It was apparent from my “monitoring” (there’s an old saying: broadcasters monitor; listeners listen and viewers view) of CNN and NBC’s coverage of the bomber that their reporters in the field didn’t know what information their colleagues had developed. It pains me to say it, but Fox News didn’t seem to have that problem. All their anchors and reporters in the field seemed to be on the same page.
Monday night, watching the NBC Nightly News, they had four reporters in the field doing live “stand-up” reports, mixing in video they’d gathered earlier in the day. Reporter number one said the bomber was caught after the plane had pushed back from the gate and was taxiing to the runway. The reporter even had the audio of ground control, telling the pilot to immediately bring the plane back to the gate. Agents then boarded the plane and arrested the would-be bomber and two other people.
Reporter number two said “the bomber was caught before boarding the plane”….an obviously erroneous assertion, as evidenced by the tape of the ground controller calling the plane BACK to the gate. CNN made a similar error in its reporting earlier in the day…obviously conflicting reporter stand-ups about how the terrorist was caught.
And how come Emirates Air isn’t checking its passengers against the notorious “no-fly” list? Another “communications” problem…or, just incompetence and mediocrity?
Many of the people I know who’ve survived all the purges in local newsrooms say they’re pressed more than ever before to do more things in the same amount of time, and with fewer people to help. Some even say the situation is a huge contributing factor to the mediocrity.
Whatever the cause, it’s apparent there are a lot of news managers and reporters who are NOT paying attention to detail – in a profession that demands attention to detail.
News organizations can make mistakes like this, and nobody really gets hurt. That’s not the case for a lot of other folks, like our law enforcement and public safety and intelligence operatives.