Thirty-two years ago, CNN proved itself as a responsible news source when Bernie Shaw refused to report that Jim Brady had been killed by the gunman who wounded President Reagan. CBS, NBC and ABC all announced Brady's death, Bernie refused to do it because he said "the source of the story was not in the room" with Brady when the alleged death occurred.
We see Brady on television regularly these days, as his wife pleads for gun control measures. Two years ago, CNN and FoxNews reported that Gabrielle Giffords had been killed in the Arizona shooting. We saw her yesterday on television standing next to President Obama when he continued his campaign for better gun control. Yesterday, when FoxNews and CNN announced that Boston bomber had been arrested, their sources were just as wrong.
It's about time that cable news networks understand that it destroys credibility when in an effort to be first, you become the first one wrong. Most of the media had heard reports all yesterday that the police were "interviewing" a suspect who had been seen putting a package in a garbage can. They all reported that, and that report has not been denied (as of 4pm EDT). The arrest reports were denied within minutes. Both Fox and CNN claimed to have gotten their news from police or federal sources, but before an hour was up, both the cops and the Feds said the arrest never occurred.
I joined United Press Television in 1956. We were competing with the AP and with Hearst Television news as well as NBC and CBS (ABC did not seriously get into the news business until 1963). Even though we were all bitter rivals, I cannot recall that any one of us ever had to retract a news story. At CNN, at it's early years, we broke lots of news and never made a retraction.
There's a journalistic word for what CNN and Fox did yesterday--"sloppy". Yesterday CNN and Fox were guilty of sloppy journalism and the reek of that sloppiness should hang over them for a long time. Maybe the television audience doesn't care as much about sloppiness as it used to and maybe it will just shrug shoulders and say that's the way television is. That's the way a lot of people used to feel about the tabloids, but they didn't feel that way about The New York Times, The Herald Tribune,The Los Angeles Times or The Washington Post, but they did laugh a lot when The Chicago Tribune elected "President" Dewey in 1948.
In 1981, Bernie Shaw stood up to his bosses and the opposition networks and kept Jim Brady alive. He was right, the rest of us were wrong and he saved our "unique" credibility. It's too bad there no was no Bernie Shaw at CNN or Fox yesterday.