If you had to give the national media a grade this week, it would probably have to be a D+. Things got off to a strong start--with immediate breaking news coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings, police response and medical treatment of victims. And then things started going downhill.
It started with the "rush to judgement" as to who might be responsible. One talking head on Fox News claimed the bombings "had all the hallmarks of an Al Qaeda attack". And then the erroneous reports of explosives being found "all over Boston".
The New York Post took us into the gutter with posting of pictures of two "Arab-looking" men with backpacks and the insinuation that these "might be" the guys that the FBI was looking for. That forced one of the "suspects"--a 17-year old high school student--to take to social media to deny being the bomber. Salon.com decided to take the "politics of race" in the other direction, publishing an article entitled Let's Hope the Boston Marathon Bomber Is a White American--insinuating that we wouldn't want to go and bomb his hometown if it happens to be here instead of the Middle East.
The low point was obviously Wednesday when CNN "broke" the news that an arrest had been made. This nugget was almost immediately "confirmed" by Fox News--while ABC went with "an arrest is imminent". The NY Post struck again--posting stories that the man in custody was "Arab looking". CBS insisted the suspect was white. Only NBC's Pete Williams was saying on the air "These reports are flat out wrong". The reports took valuable time away from investigating the bombing and forced the Boston PD and the FBI to call a press conference to prove CNN wrong. That was then followed by several hours of the networks shifting into CYA mode--making the argument that "it's clear that all of the law enforcement agencies aren't on the same page if some of them are 'telling us' that a suspect was arrested." Fox even got one more kick at the racial aspect--devoting much of an entire segment after yesterday's release of surveillance footage of the suspect to whether these guys are "white or middle eastern".
And then I wake up this morning to find the Boston Bruins fans that I follow on Twitter are giving me more up-to-date information on the shootout and manhunt (by following local police scanners) than any of the networks had on their Twitter feeds or on the air.
I get the feeling that professors and students at Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the Poynter Institute will have ample new instructional material to consider when they look back at this week's news coverage. The theme of those courses should be "First and wrong, is still wrong."