The word of two bombings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon last Monday was the kind of juicy story that the media can’t resist covering — or over-covering.
As former New York Times editor Howell Raines termed the strategy, flooding the zone. There is nothing wrong with putting a full-court press on such an undeniably important story — rich with overtones of apparent terrorism. But when the media go all out, they tend to let their enthusiasm get the better of them and start to make mistakes. It’s always unfortunate when a media outlet gets something wrong — but it can be unforgivable or even heartbreaking when they drop the ball on a story as widely followed as the
How do you rate the quality of the media’s coverage of the horrendous bombings at the Boston Marathon?
For the most part, the U.S. media proceed cautiously but, as usual in such a big story, their mistakes will stand out more than the high-minded coverage. The New York Post insisted for far too long that 12 people had died in the wreckage when virtually every other media organization was telling us that the death toll consisted of two victims (Ultimately, the media put the number at three). The Post was hardly alone in making errors, though.
The Associated Press, the most trusted source in times of crises, incorrectly said that law enforcement agents “had disabled cellphone service to prevent calls intended to trigger further detonations,” USA Today pointed out. The paper noted as well that the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, among others, itself had momentarily dropped erred during its Boston bombings coverage.
Perhaps the most damaging mistake that journalists made during the aftermath was to report that a third explosion had taken place at the John F. Kennedy Library, which actually was nothing more than an unrelated fire. This provocation served to increase the American public’s already high fear factor in the story. In fairness, Boston police had mentioned the library as the location for of another explosion prior to correcting their bulletin.
The mistake by the Boston authorities underscores the difficulty news media have in covering this story. Can anybody be trusted to disseminate proper information? When the police get an aspect of the story wrong, all bets are off. Of course, the public will inevitably blame the messenger in this and every case.
The media organizations have got to be doubly as vigilant when they cover of a fast-moving story of this import. When we don’t, the public deepens its distrust for us as a profession. When we get the story wrong, we look reckless, foolish and dangerous. It’s no wonder why the public sometimes mistrusts and often even hates the media.