Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Rush to Bad Judgment

[[M E D I A]] * I tuned in for some of last night’s confusing CNN coverage of the attempts to rescue a dozen men trapped in a Sago, West Virginia, coal mine--an effort that initially brought jubilation, as word spread that 11 of the miners were being brought out alive, and then generated anger and frustration, after it was reported that in fact only one of those 11 had survived. Getting up this morning, I was planning to write something about the perils of 24-hour news coverage, and how rising-star reporter Anderson Cooper helped blow an unsubstantiated rumor into a “miracle” story. But Bob Sassone at the TV Squad blog beat me to the punch. With respect, I offer this excerpt from his commentary:

Sometimes I hate 24-hour news channels.

This isn’t a knock against Cooper. They
all do it, in all situations, because they all have to be live from the scene and get the news before their competitors do. I have no idea why the stations reported with such conviction and enthusiasm that the miners were alive, whether it was bad reporting or a mistake by [West Virginia] authorities (the governor was going to make a speech about the miners being alive). One guest on CNN this morning said that the info that they were alive was made by one person who didn’t know what he was talking about, so did the news channels just base their “breaking news” proclamation on this one person, this “kinda rumor” that was beginning to spread at the scene? Shouldn’t they have gotten confirmation from another official source (and why did the officials take so long to correct what the news stations were reporting when they knew it wasn’t true?)

CNN is using the title “Tragedy at Sago Mine” in their coverage, which sounds like the title for the inevitable TV movie. May I suggest “Bad Judgment” instead?
Before any movie goes into production, though, American all-news channels such as CNN and MSNBC will rush to exploit their own errors of impatience in broadcasting the bogus “miracle” survival story as credible, in order to coax even more viewers to tune in to their navel-gazing, “what went wrong?” segments. In fact, reporter Cooper--who, to give him his due, seemed no less pissed off by last night’s misinformation than anyone else--is planning to do that very thing tonight on his CNN program, Anderson Cooper 360°.

READ MORE:First Joyful News, Then a Tragedy About Miners,” by Jonathan Peterson and Stephen Braun (Los Angeles Times); “A Dozen Miracles Short,” by Chris Maag (Time); “Media Report Miracle Mine Rescue--Then Carry the Tragic Truth,” by Greg Mitchell (Editor & Publisher); “Miner Media Mishap,” by Marc Acriche (State of the Day); “11 Miners Dead--Will Justice Get the Shaft?” by Charlie Cray (The Huffington Post).

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