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At Boston Marathon as in Newtown, initial media reports almost entirely wrong

At Boston Marathon as in Newtown, initial media reports almost entirely wrong

Almost every initial media account of the Newtown shooting ended up being wrong, except for the fact that there was a shooting.

The type of weapon used was wrong, as were reports that Mrs. Lanza worked at the school, that she had a dispute with the principal, and that handguns were used. Even the wrong Lanza son was identified as the shooter.

This NY Times correction essentially rewrote the story:

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: December 18, 2012

An article on Saturday about the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and 8 adults dead, using information from the authorities, misstated the way in which the gunman managed to enter the Sandy Hook Elementary School. The gunman, Adam Lanza, shot his way in, defeating the security system that required visitors to be buzzed in; the school’s principal did not allow him to go through the security system after recognizing him. The article also referred incorrectly to the gunman’s mother, Nancy, whom he killed in the house they shared not far from the school. She was never a teacher at the school.

This tweet (via Twitchy) pretty much summed it up:

So too with the Boston Marathon bombing, so many of the supposedly confirmed facts turned out not to be true:

Expect the list of inaccuracies to grow.

A good lesson as to why we cannot jump to conclusions based on initial reports.


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1. a “Federal official” confirmed 12 dead

2. seven total devices confirmed

3. JFK library bombed/set afire

4. marathon first aid tent becomes temporary morgue

Ya-da, ya-da…

The “fog of war”, multiplied by TV crews and the need to fill cable news vacuums.

    janitor in reply to Ragspierre. | April 16, 2013 at 7:11 pm

    Very, very annoying. Worse than the gossip down the street. No, she’s usually pretty accurate compred to this…

    I’m still not sure about the “we didn’t shut down the cell-phone network” line that is coming out now.

    While it would be a radical move, it should be standard operating procedure when remote-activated explosive devices are suspected, given the design and development of IEDs coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan, which have largely been developed using cheap, disposable cell phones.

    Shutting down the cell network for about 2 hours or so would allow emergency services to work on the injured without having to worry about a set of secondary devices that could be remotely triggered to do damage to EMS personnel (which, in terms of “system” damage, are significantly more valuable than standard civilians, who are effectively the “bait” to get the EMS personnel to the kill-zone).

    There would be only a very limited number of personnel necessary to shut down the system given the automation involved, and to all the world (including the phone carrier technicians) it would look like a “service outage” which they would be trying to figure out how to fix, until it simply, magically “resolved” itself.

I am a retired airline pilot, and whenever there was some sort of aviation incident, people would come up and ask what happened. My standard reply was that in the first 24-36 hours, you could have reasonable confidence that something happened, where it happened, and with much less confidence the number of fatalities. Otherwise, just ignore the reports. These days, I apply that to most any disaster. It works well.

Indeed, a well thought out strategy for filtering all the subjective and false initial reports.

As for some of the reports, though I’m a tad bit leery. Are some of these media reports being suppressed even if true? That is, for the sake of allowing investigators unfettered and unbiased access to the relevant information?

There has always been in the past a tendency for the media to hold a story for a period, if reporting might compromise an investigation. But with today’s media, I’m not so sure that holds true across the board anymore.

    janitor in reply to Paul. | April 16, 2013 at 7:13 pm

    That’s the other thing. We’ve already had media collusion with the White House on keeping things quiet and disseminating misinformation.

I think there is a big difference in ideology between the Newtown reporting and the Boston Marathon Bombing reporting.

Seems that the anti-gun people immediately seized on the Newtown tragedy to advance the anti-gun agenda. The MSM is a part of the anti-gun lobby and gleefully went along.

The Boston matter was a bombing. Everyone (virtually) is against bomber’s rights. I think the mistakes were largely minor (except for NYPost reporting 12 death — quite irresponisble) and “fog of war” type errors. Some of the errors were police errors reported by media, not media errors (JFK library bombed and connected to Marathon). Left wing tinge to reportorial mistakes seems to be missing.

Thus, I did not detect the ideological flavor in the Boston errors like I did with the Newtown “errors”.

    BannedbytheGuardian in reply to george. | April 16, 2013 at 7:01 pm

    iNot so . I learnt only by clicking on a site At about 7 am local time ( 21 hours ahead time zone) .
    I then went to the foreign media – one gets pretty good unfiltered reports which may be wrong but they are not immediate re actions.

    There was already mention of Tax Day – because few outside of the Us know this.

    So yes – before AlQuaeda – it was an aspersions against those who have a tax grudge hence an anti Guvmint hence right wing anti Obama .

      BannedbytheGuardian in reply to BannedbytheGuardian. | April 16, 2013 at 7:30 pm

      That needs explaining.

      the foreign media collecting US news is superior to the domestic arm. They watch the first wave – which today is in minutes – & then get some backup & report phase 2 . Phase 2 is the better source.
      phase 3 is the propaganda .

      It might be in this case that unlike in America 90% immediately thought Al Quaeda. & the Tax Day had to be mentioned

      12 hours later the local media here had some good fair & insightful coverage.They were already prepped for Margaret Thatcher funeral & have explored associated security , political violence issues & the IRA terrorist history.

      It helps that we consider bombs in bins terrorism.

In addition to the incompetence and malfeasance of the media – plus excusable confusion to boot – consider this: how much can we trust the press releases and press conference remarks of law enforcement – especially Federal – after all the lies and double-talk of the last thirty-plus years? Every time they lie, they undermine their own authority and weaken the necessary trust between law enforcement and a working majority of Americans.

The fog of media continues. Most of these are just people passing on initial reports. A lot of what was said was true. It happens. It does not bother me when it is done in good faith.

What bothers me is when those assign blame for their own agenda. We all (well those of us acting in good faith) want the responsible parties identified and punished. We will also not forget what was said.

MaggotAtBroadAndWall | April 16, 2013 at 6:42 pm

Second attempted attack: Brett Baier just reported that mail intended for Republican Senator Roger Wicker was intercepted and tested positve for ricin today.

[…] is a truism that many initial reports in events such as yesterday’s or in the “fog of war” are inco…. But that does not mean some basic facts should be denied. Yesterday Barack Obama did not call it […]

Now you know why public confidence in the MSM is in the single digits…

I turn the TV off and pray for those murdered and injured, and their loved ones, and for the first responders and the ordinary people who are trying to help in any way they can. I tune in periodically, just to see if there is anything that is truly new and accurate but I refuse sit and watch the talking heads pontificate. I just want the news, not your opinions or guesses at who might have done the deed. I can do that myself. What I can’t do is get the news, as it happens. The facts, ma’am, just the facts.

It is best to approach the media (ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, NY Times, Washington Post, etc) in the same way Kremlinologists studied Soviet leaders. The media is a corrupt, ideology-driven institution that needs secrecy and deceit to thrive. Nothing – absolutely nothing – these extremists say or do should be taken at face value.

My distrust of the media did not grow slowly over time. Rather, it erupted full-force because of an incident in my early adult life. In the early 1980s I was pursuing a degree in Electrical Engineering. The media reports of the time – this was right after the Three Mile Island nuclear plant incident – were full of bizarre, sensation-laden stories about nuclear energy. The majority of these reports were scientifically and technically inaccurate to an alarming degree, and in my opinion designed to terrify people into opposing nuclear energy. Since then there has been no soul-searching by journalists, or even a tacit acknowledgement that they may have gotten the story wrong. There is only self-congratulations.

The incident changed this apolitical 20-something into a full-blown media skeptic. Since those days, I have done a bit of research on my own about the media lords like Walter Cronkite that we are supposed to worship. These men and women were not selfless warriors pursuing the truth for the public good, but ideological partisans determined to make all of society’s institution (church, school, government, business, etc.) bow the knee to their false god of collectivism and the twisted morality that justifies it.

Do not trust the so-called mainstream media. Ever.

Whenever something like this happens, it is important to remeber that first reports are ALWAYS WRONG.

Anyone who knows anything is not talking. Anyone who is talking doesn’t know anything.

The reason for this is simple: Those who know anything are involved in the investigation. They will keep quiet so as not to harm/impede the investigation.

And the investigation has not yet had enough time to produce solid information.

The ‘officials’ making statements are generally also not involved in the inestigation. They are politicians/beauracrats who are out making staements because of their position (job), not because of any expertise. (IE – Mayor of Boston, Governor of MA, Chief of Police, etc.)

Those who are talking are not involved in the investigation and all they can possibly know is what they, personally, saw or experienced. Even then, research has demonstrated that eyewitness reports are often wrong.


Look, as a veteran (29 years so far) having worked my way up from the bottom through companies, battalions, and now brigade staff, I can tell you one thing, and every First Sergeant and Sergeant Major will back me up on this: The first report is always wrong. It doesn’t matter how simple the detail or engagement. That is a fact of life, especially in chaotic situations. I think folks who have no experience with high tempo reactions and situations have absolutely no idea the amount of rumor and speculation swirling around the actual response. I can explain more if you like.