Sometimes it’s almost as if I’m embarrassed to be in the news business.
Any semblance of what they taught me in journalism school is long gone in a vast swath of today’s news world, blown away in a whirlwind of half-truths, innuendo or outright misinformation.
See, here at the Times-Union, we actually try to get things right the first time and confirm facts through public officials before we publish them. What a concept, right? Weird isn’t it? Why not just report everything you hear regardless of the credibility of the source?
Because that’s precisely what lots of media outlets do these days.
Look no further than the tragic events of Ferguson, Mo.
It’s unbelieveable to me that any reputable news agency would rush to the scene and begin reporting as fact the rantings of “witnesses” who may or may not have seen anything.
It seems now the first reports from the scene – most notably that the victim of the shooting was shot in the back and that he had his hands up – were false.
Of course, when I first heard these reports they made no sense to me. Why would someone raise their hands with their back to an officer? Makes no sense. Apparently it passed a lot of editors’ credibility tests because it was widely reported.
Did not one editor somewhere think to themselves, “Self, that doesn’t make sense. People don’t surrender by walking away.”
Guess not.
I am not saying this diminishes the officer’s potential criminal culpability one way or the other. It just bothers me that so much misinformation gets reported.
It was also reported this week that the officer had a fractured eye socket and that the police have “dozens” of witnesses corroborating the officer’s story that he was attacked by the victim.
Is any of that true? Who knows? Maybe. Maybe not.
You literally can’t believe what you read online. It’s amazing – and awful. If members of the media wonder why people don’t trust them, there’s the answer.
A Huffington Post reporter noted that there were rubber bullets on the ground around him. Turns out they were earplugs. This reporter has become a bit of an Internet sensation for his foolishness. Someone posted a picture of a battery on the ground and “reported” it was a taser.
I could go on, but you get the point. In the rush to get the story first, today’s media have no qualms about getting the story wrong. And they never correct their mistakes.
And as bad as that is, even worse is the level of advocacy I see in reporting.
Far beyond reporting facts – which, apparently, may or may not really be facts in the first place – media outlets like to spin the story one way or another.
In this particular story, the liberal news outlets are screaming for the cop’s head and conservative ones are blaming the kid who got shot.
Neither side seems to have any regard for truth.
Another instance of media gone wild is in regard to the Aug. 9 Tony Stewart incident. You may recall during a sprint car race, Stewart and 20-year-old up-and-comer Kevin Ward got tangled up and Ward spun out.
Ward got out of his car to shake his fist at Stewart the next lap around under caution and Stewart’s car struck Ward, killing him.
Stewart has not returned to racing since and the incident remains under investigation.
And while there has been no official word regarding the results of the investigation, that hasn’t stopped lots of news sources from tossing in their 2-cents’ worth.
Publishing reports from “witnesses” that Stewart “hit the gas” or “fishtailed” before striking Ward, the media have given people all the ammo they need to line up on one side or the other and fire libelous missiles on social media.
I just think it would be better in this current world of mind-numbingly inaccurate “up-to-the-minute” reporting if  people reporting the news would just chill.
They should take the time to get it right before they throw it out there for consumption by an all-too-eager public full of social media “experts.”
What makes the difference if you report it 12 minutes or 12 hours after the incident?
Is being first so critical that reporters are willing to destroy their own credibility?
From where I’m sitting, seems the answer is yes.