POLITICS

CNN's Sloppy Reportage Needlessly Panics Nation

11/11/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Thanks to CNN's overactive imagination, news consumers experienced a brief dose of 9/11 nostalgia panic as a routine Coast Guard training exercise magically transformed into a touch-and-go bit of terrorist interdiction on the high seas! It's September 11, 2009, and everyone is bored and bloodthirsty.

Here's the breathless account from CNN, all 100% panic-induced fantasia:

The U.S. Coast Guard tried to prevent a boat from entering a security zone on the Potomac River not far from the Pentagon Friday, where President Obama had been at an event commemorating the Sept. 11 attacks.

There were reports on police scanners that the Coast Guard fired 10 rounds of ammunition, but those reports could not immediately be confirmed. It was not immediately clear from the reports whether they referred to warning shots.

The incident took place between the Memorial and 14th Street bridges, in a zone that had been blocked off because of the ceremonies.

The timing of the incident was not immediately clear, but President Obama had departed the Pentagon shortly after 10 a.m. ET. Reports of the incident came in shortly after 10 a.m. ET.

When contacted by CNN, the Coast Guard Command Center said it had no immediate information.

WATCH:

But Michael Roston, writing over at True/Slant, flags a concurrent report from the Associated Press that managed to get it right AND to actually include contacting the Coast Guard for response, which CNN couldn't seem to manage:

The Coast Guard was conducting a training exercise in the Potomac River moments before President Barack Obama and his motorcade crossed a nearby bridge.

Coast Guard Chief Keith Moore said Friday no shots were fired as part of the exercise. Media reports suggested shots had been fired in the river.

Roston goes on to point out that CNN went right ahead, insanely escalating the story:

Already, CNN, who manufactured this fake story, is quoting President Bush's hyperpartisan former Homeland Security adviser Fran Townsend as saying that this was "felony stupidity." When the "Air Force One" fly by in Lower Manhattan occurred, hundreds if not thousands of people bore witnesses to something that tremendously freaked them out - there was video and photos taken that showed what a freak out incident it really was.

Via DCist, here's a picture of the training exercise. You'll note the incredible lack of similarity to the lower Manhattan Air Force One fly-by.

Jake Tapper reports that White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs assigned blame for the panic to CNN and more or less scoffed at the notion that the Coast Guard should be held responsible:

The White House spokesman said the Commander-in-Chief would not "micromanage" the Coast Guard's decision to hold the exercise, and he chastised the press -- in honor of those who died on 9/11 and the future victims of terrorrism -- telling reporters to tell themselves "We may not get this first, but we may be the first ones to get it right."

Asked if 9/11 was an appropriate day for such a training exercise, Gibbs said, "I tend not to question law enforcement trying to keep the nation safe."

He said media should "check before reporting" such events, and suggested other training exercises are likely going on right now that we don't know about, and rejected any comparison with the Air Force One flyover of Manhattan.

This whole matter calls to mind a comparison that was easily made between cable and local news back on September 11, 2001. On that day, I recall CNN anchors breathlessly reporting all sorts of insane rumors including one about a bomb at the State Department. That was when I changed the channel to my local ABC station whose reporter, with perfect timing, was saying, "I am standing outside the State Department right now and everything is fine."

That's how CNN managed to propagate a fake panic across the news wires today. There was a silver lining, however, as CNN's report forced MSNBC to cover the story as well, briefly interrupting their traditional "September 11 Terror Porn Screensaver" that they run every year, and which they really, really, really need to stop doing.

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