I know you have heard this before but let me repeat it one last time—most news media outlets and most journalists really dropped the ball this week in regards to the Boston Marathon bombings.
Here, I will rate the media “winners” and “losers” of the tragedy's coverage.
Winner: Michael Skolnik, Global Grind Political Director
Who would have thought that the political director of Russell Simmons' hip-hop website would have been so nearly accurate in his coverage of the manhunt? Sure, he had some snafus, such as when he believed that the Boston Police Department identified a suspect as missing Brown University student, Sunil Tripathi. However, Skolnik used his sources on the ground and the Boston Police Department scanner and retracted the misinformation. Even when the Twitterverse still believed that Tripathi was the second suspect, Skolnik patiently explained that Tripathi is Indian, and that we should not make any assumptions about his race.
Winner: Andrew Kaczynski, Buzzfeed Politics Reporter
Like Skolnik, Kaczynski relied mostly on the Boston Police scanner but he also looked for the most accurate tweets from reputable journalists and local news anchors.
Sigh. The problem with MSNBC’s reporting is that the majority of people reporting on Friday were not reporters. MSNBC specializes in opinion shows and they excel on that front. They have a couple of news shows but opinion dominates MSNBC. With that said, if you tuned into MSNBC, what you mostly got was opinion. You got the opinion of the host; you got the opinion of “experts” who have not worked in their respected fields for years. Chris Matthews, on the day of the bombings, was trying to figure out whether or not the bombers were part of some right-wing fringe group.
Winner: Chuck Todd
Chuck Todd avoided a colossal embarrassment for MSNBC. When a guest was attempting to look at the suspect's Amazon wish lists to decide what we should learn from what he wants to buy, Todd immediately told the guest we cannot confirm this information and that they should not use it. Later, he chided the political analysts who were already writing articles about the implications of the bombing and the manhunt on politics.
Loser: New York Post
First, they reported that 12 people died in the bombings, which was unconfirmed and later disproven. Then they gave front-cover treatment to two innocent high school students who, in their eyes, looked suspicious. Let me clarify what I mean by look suspicious: they looked liked they practiced Islam. By looking like they practice Islam, I mean they looked like members of Al Qaeda. They were not—they were just two teenage boys cheering runners on with other Bostonians.
Winner: Local News Reporters
Let me be the first to say that I am not a fan of local news. When you look up the definition of yellow journalism, you see a picture of Joseph Pulitzer holding up a picture of local news reporters. However, these people came through on Thursday and Friday. They were careful and deliberate in the information they put out and made sure that what they were reporting was factual. However, I was disconcerted by WCVB’s chyrons reporting that the suspect prayed five times a day when he became a radicalized Muslim. Um, Muslims pray five times a day regardless of whether or not they are fundamentalists. Praying five times a day is one of the pillars of Islam called salat.
Loser: All the reporters who interviewed the suspect’s uncle
It was painful to watch the uncle become the spokesperson for the Chechen community. Later he was asked whether he loves America. Why was he asked that? Not only was he forced to renounce his nephews and family and apologize on their behalf; he was being forced to declare his love for America so that we do not meet him and the rest of the Chechen community with suspicion.
First of all, what is TMZ doing reporting an actual news story? Don’t they only focus on the lives of celebrities? Twitter handed TMZ their tails on a plate after TMZ published a ridiculous article about how suspect number 1 was “heavy into hip-hop.” Why does that even matter? Fortunately, Twitter struck back and provided some much-needed comic relief on Friday.
Biggest Loser: CNN
Where do I even begin with this one? On Wednesday, they falsely reported that the marathon bombing suspects were caught and taken into custody. They also reported that the suspects were dark-skinned. CNN reporting led to a slew of other news outlets to publish stories whereas NBC acknowledged CNN’s report and patiently said we have not heard anything. Why did CNN feel the need to report the suspects' skin color? They again reported that the suspects were dark-skinned on Thursday night before the details were unfolding in the MIT shooting. Another reporter apparently forgot where she was for a moment and said the streets of Boston are quiet, and it seemed as though a bomb went off. They tried to be careful by continually repeating “we don’t know anything yet” but they just came off looking incompetent. CNN has become a shadow of its former self.
Biggest Winner: NBC
Savannah Guthrie, Pete Williams and Brian Williams were a godsend. They waited to confirm their sources’ information and reported news and not opinion. I could have done without Richard Engels' expertise on terrorism but I was so impressed with their accuracy that I could tolerate him. CNN could stand to learn a thing or two from NBC.
The lesson that the new media can learn is to be patient, confirm your sources and make sure that they are trustworthy. We’ve also learned that the 24-hour cable “news” networks are incompetent when it comes to actual news.