On Wednesday afternoon a handful of news outlets falsely reported that an arrest had been made in the Boston bombings.
The Boston Globe, Fox News and The Associated Press all reported a suspect had been captured but were forced to retract their reports when the FBI issued a statement saying “no arrest has been made in connection with the Boston Marathon attack.”
CNN’s John King, citing multiple “exclusive” sources, was the first to broadcasts the faulty information. He’s taking the brunt of the false reporting not only because he broke the misinformation but also because he offered a physical description of the supposed individual who was arrested.
King described the “dark-skinned” suspect on CNN Wednesday around 1:45pm EST:
A physical description was given to me of the suspect. Wolf, I want to be very careful here because this is very sensitive information, but the description given to me, once again, it’s a dark-skinned individual. And I want to just stop there. Further descriptives were given by this source —— but it was a background conversation.
After reporting the false news for an hour, CNN retracted their statements. Minutes later the FBI called them out for not going through “appropriate official channels before reporting.”
“Over the past day and a half, there have been a number of press reports based on information from unofficial sources that has been inaccurate. Since these stories often have unintended consequences, we ask the media, particularly at this early stage of the investigation, to exercise caution and attempt to verify information through appropriate official channels before reporting,” read the FBI statement.
The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) also issued a statement urging all news outlets to use “extreme caution when reporting on the tragic events which occurred in Boston this week.” Below is an excerpt from their statement:
There have been various reports identifying a potential suspect as “a dark-skinned individual”. This terminology is not only offensive, but also offers an incomplete picture of relevant facts about the potential person of interest’s identity. When conveying information for the public good, and which can help law enforcement with the help of a vigilant public to keep the country safe, it’s important that such facts be put into proper context.
NABJ in no way encourages censorship but does encourage news organizations to be responsible when reporting about race, to report on race only when relevant and a vital part of a story. Ultimately this helps to avoid mischaracterizations which might encourage potential bias or discrimination against a person or a group of people based on race or ethnicity.
The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart issued his own statement on Wednesday night. He mocked how much CNN kept boasting of its “exclusive reporting,” which turned out to be exclusive “because it was completely fucking wrong.”
Stewart described this as the network “shit[ting] in their own mouths,” and called CNN “the Human Centipede of News.”