NEW YORK A balloon racing across the Colorado sky without a 6-year-old boy inside. A major lobbyist not changing its position on Potomac River that never happened.. A shootout with terrorists on the
It's been a rough season for non-news.
The recent spate of hoaxes and premature stories exposes a dangerous fault line for journalists in the world of second-by-second news.
Each situation was unique. But they all diminished the credibility of news organizations at a time when the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press has reported that 63 percent of Americans believe news stories are often inaccurate the worst report card it has ever seen.
"Speed is always a threat to accuracy, and the faster we can go, the more jeopardy the truth is in," said Deborah Potter, a former CBS News reporter and executive director of the News Lab think tank.
The balloon boy story riveted cable news viewers a week ago. A flying saucerlike balloon had escaped from its tethers and Richard Heene reported to authorities that he believed his son Falcon was aboard. CNN, MSNBC all turned to the story to the exclusion of virtually all others.and
Even in retrospect, it's hard to argue against that judgment. It was an unusual story, with gripping visuals, of a young boy's life in danger. Later, investigators alleged it was a hoax perpetrated by a publicity-hungry father.
What the story missed at the time was a bigger dose of skepticism and caution more emphasis on the uncertainty of the report and curiosity about how a boy could fly in the structure.
In live broadcasts, anchors need to take care in emphasizing what is not known, said Frank Sesno, a former CNN Washington bureau chief who is now a professor at .
"We're not doing it enough," he said, "because it's too easy to seize on something that appears to be happening before our eyes and run with it."
Perhaps tinged by disgust at the hoax itself, the media has suffered a backlash among people who believe too much time was spent on the story, said Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism.
A few days later in Washington, an official-looking press release from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced that the organization had reversed its position on climate change legislation.
Not so. It was an elaborate scam put on by members of the liberal activist group Yes Men, who were looking to draw attention to a policy stance with which it disagreed. Reuters moved a story based on the false press release, and both CNBC andreported it with the anchors correcting themselves mid-story upon learning it was false.
In all the cases, a desire to push the story out fast took priority over a phone call to double-check.