It happens in just about every mass shooting or terrorist event. The initial media reports are inaccurate, yet those hurried inaccuracies feed a political narrative that is hard to break even after the facts are “corrected.”
In the Newtown shooting, the wrong person was identified as the shooter, and the weapons used initially were reported incorrectly. I noted at the time, after the benefit of several hours in the car away from the internet on that Friday afternoon:
I’ve been out of pocket pretty much since the first sketchy reports this morning about a possible school shooting. A meeting, a luncheon and then 6 hours in the car.
The car ride was enlightening because I followed the details of the Connecticut school shooting exclusively by listening to the radio.
As in all these cases, the facts changed as the day went on. First, it was a mass shooting with a semi-automatic assault rifle, which the news reports noted would put back on the political table the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban. The latest reports indicate that an assault weapon was not fired. [See update]
Then it was a shooting with handguns, which the news reports noted would put back on the political table hand gun control. The latest reports indicate the assailant killed his own mother to get her legally licensed and registered handguns, along with a long rifle which was not fired….
Update: On Saturday the medical examiner said the rifle was used in the shooting, contrary to all prior reports that it was left in the car and the shooting was with handguns.
Almost every fact about the Newtown shooting initially was reported incorrectly:
Wrongly reported so far: shooter ID, connection to school, fate of father, location of mother's death, method of entry, weapons employed.
— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) December 15, 2012
Phones weren't shut down, other explosives were not found, there is no suspect in custody. Beyond "there was explosion" most MSM info wrong
— Elizabeth Scalia (@TheAnchoress) April 16, 2013
This is the pattern, repeated again yesterday about the Navy Yard shooting. We took a very cautious approach here, waiting until the evening to post what we did and didn’t know about the shooting. What we do and don’t know so far in the Navy Yard shooting. (I will give Mandy complete credit for that caution!)
The reporting of facts and the politics reacting to those changing reports still are in flux as of this writing.
At first, reports also indicated that an AR-15 rifle was used drove the narrative in the mainstream media:
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) September 16, 2013
[Note: The tweet above doesn’t “load” on the page because Piers Morgan deleted it. Twitchy saved the image below]
— Noah Rothman (@NoahCRothman) September 17, 2013
Now the “confirmed” facts have changed, and it appears that a shotgun was the primary weapon used:
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) September 17, 2013
FBI Washington field office just confirmed gunman was NOT armed with AR15. Spokesperson says 1 shotgun and 2 pistols recovered
— Pamela Brown (@PamelaBrownCNN) September 17, 2013
Don’t be surprised if the “confirmed facts” change again.
And the problem was not the lack of background checks, but a system which allowed a dangerously mentally ill person to escape accountability, even getting a security clearance:
Ben Smith, Editor-in-Chief of Buzzfeed, has pointed out that in the internet age, Journalism sometimes means you are not the one to break the story:
The media’s new and unfamiliar job is to provide a framework for understanding the wild, unvetted, and incredibly intoxicating information that its audience will inevitably see — not to ignore it. A Reddit post seen by millions without context is worse for the story, and the public, and to the mission of reporting than the same post in a helpful and informed context seen by many more. Reporting is no longer a question of whether or not to dignify new and questionable information with attention — it’s about predicting which of it will influence the story, and explaining, debunking, or contextualizing it the best we can. That is, incidentally, what our readers want.
As with so many others, Buzzfeed learned that lesson again in the Navy Yard shooting:
Update: Just after 2 p.m. Buzzfeed changed the headline and added what presumably is the final correction update. No one likes to have to do that, particularly to a story already cited as authority and shared on social media thousands of times: