If there’s anything the national media should have experience in covering, it’s mass shootings. They’ve had several chances to hone their skills in the past couple years, and yet when put to the test again in the Washington Navy Yard massacre, they came up woefully short.
I have concluded that these national outlets are aware of all the misinformation they’re spreading, and that they don’t care. It’s now a game to see who can get the latest tweet on the air. I believe there are enough seasoned news veterans on the staff of these national news-gathering organizations that they’re aware of one of the fundamentals of journalism, namely, that first reports are almost always wrong – and they simply don’t care about accuracy.
They care about delivering the most compelling live coverage they can muster. This is info-tainment, not journalism, and it’s all about getting eyeballs on the screen.
There’s also an element of stupidity, which exists because of the lack of content supervision. Take a look at the photo at the top of this post. It’s a screen-shot of CNN declaring that one of the weapons the shooter used was an “AR-15 shotgun”. Of course, there is no such thing. An AR-15 is a semi-automatic assault weapon. And, for those who need further depth of information, a gun is generally something with a smooth bore barrel, and a rifle is something which has “rifling” in the barrel which makes the projectile (bullet) spin. That increases accuracy, for the same reason that an accomplished quarterback puts a “spiral” on the ball when he throws it.
It’s hard for me to believe, as a ‘sconnie boy raised in the Fox Valley who went deer hunting with his dad, a decorated WW2 vet who rigorously inculcated his son with firearm safety training, that there is no one at CNN who didn’t catch that “AR-15 shotgun” error and pull it down within a few seconds. You can blame some 22-year-old kid who grew up in an urban area and has never actually held (much less fired) a rifle or shotgun for creating that graphic, but is there no one at any level of authority at CNN who didn’t take a look at that graphic and correct it within seconds of it going on the air?
I guess not.
Any veteran newsie can tell you how they learned first-hand that the earliest reports at the scene of a breaking news story are almost always wrong, and that eyewitnesses are often the least reliable, but now it’s a game of following Twitter feeds.
Here’s a screen capture of a CNN reporter’s tweet regarding that non-existent AR-15 – note the time-stamp and consider that it was more than an hour after she sent out that tweet that CNN (and all the others) finally corrected themselves.
What’s even more troubling to me is that some of print media play the same game.
Above is the cover of the New York Daily News, a publication which has a well-earned reputation for sensationalizing everything, trying to grab eyeballs (and lure purchasers) with a typically sensational cover story. Oooh, AR-15, bad, bad! Read all about it! Maniac! Newtown all over again!
A lot of people think this sort of stuff is part of the vast left-wing conspiracy (with apologies to Hillary Clinton) to do away with all firearms, and to empower Barack Obama’s Secret Muslim Army to come into your home and take your guns away. It’s not. It’s just that what used to be journalism is now, in many cases, no more than info-tainment.
One more thing: do you think Wolf Blitzer will ever learn to stop asking astonishingly stupid questions during coverage of these breaking-news-massacres?
One of the best send-ups of Wolf’s on-air ineptitude was a lampoon piece done by Jon Stewart of Comedy Central. The screen-capture above is part of a 7-minute parody The Daily Show did of Blitzer’s dunderheaded questions, including my favorite, where Wolf said to a CNN reporter on the scene something like “we are getting word that the suspect was dressed in a black pair of pants and wearing a black top….what, if anything, does this say, in a preliminary sense, about what may have been his psychological make-up?” Stewart ran a split-screen with Wolf on one side, and a picture of CNN’s Anderson Cooper on the other….dressed in black slacks with a black top.
Just keep this in mind as you watch the next edition of live coverage of a breaking news event involving a shooter: it’s info-tainment, it’s not news.
And certainly not journalism.