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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014

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While we continue to sift through the emerging facts, the media continues to show that it doesn't have time to get the facts straight.
While we continue to sift through the emerging facts, the media continues to show that it doesn't have time to get the facts straight. (Photo: shutterstock.com)

Media rushes to be first, rather than to be right

Yesterday’s bombing in Boston is a difficult incident to comprehend. Innocent children, marathon runners and spectators were killed or injured in a senseless act of violence. Whether the attack was perpetrated by government agencies, right wing Tea Party extremists or Muslims enacting a personal jihad is up for debate. Regardless, the people responsible need to be brought to a swift justice.

While we continue to sift through the emerging facts, the media continues to show that it doesn’t have time to get the facts straight. The disconcerting rush to be first, as opposed to being right, has reached an all-time high. If the need to be first has blurred the lines of journalism, then the need to score political points during a tragedy has erased all lines of journalistic integrity.

Wolf Blitzer got out in front of everybody and wondered aloud if anti-tax groups had anything to do with the explosions. The New York Times' Nick Kristof sent a classy tweet right after the attack blaming House Republicans for the bombings. Not to be outdone, Chris Matthews opined that right-wing extremists might have had something to do with this attack. Last night, Bill O’Reilly called it an act of war. Call me crazy, but shouldn’t we need a foe before declaring war?

There’s nothing worse after a national tragedy than the cretins that emerge from under their rocks and assign blame based on their political leanings. I bet Richard Jewell would have a few interesting points to make about the media reporting before having their facts confirmed.

I have a special affinity for pointing out the incompetence in which the media operates in modern day America. The outlets refuse to tell you the news, but rather what they feel the news means. I’ve got a solution to correct some of the narratives that have been established, leading to these shortcuts being taken during the reporting of national tragedies.

When there is HUGE media event, all of the cable news channels immediately go to wall-to-wall coverage. This sets off a long series of misinformation, rumor mongering, and endless speculation. The "breaking news" gets to hysteric levels and as a result, facts frequently are misrepresented.

Remember the two gunmen in Newtown? How about Ryan Lanza being identified? As we all know, the details shortly after a crisis are often erroneous. The desire to be first overwhelms the need to be accurate. This inevitably leads to mistakes due to a lack of accountability.

If only there was a way to hold the news media responsible for their inaccurate reporting.

One idea could be to take a close look at the television news coverage after a national tragedy. One month after the initial incident, the media reporting could easily be examined to discern who reported fact versus fiction. A simple scorecard could be used for the tally and the hilarity would be priceless. The news organization that has the most misrepresented facts would be punished by not being allowed to cover any breaking news for the next month.

For one month, while the competition is covering every angle of a breaking news story, this network will be required to run daily programming and not stray from their normal scheduled activities. If guilty of reporting breaking news, they could just be taken off the air. Of course, this will hit the media where it hurts most: Ad money and viewer eyeballs. After one month, the news outlet will be off probation and back in the journalism business.

Ideally, if there is more than one event in a month, we could have multiple organizations on probation. I suppose every tragedy should have a small silver lining. This system will punish those that report falsehoods and reward those that report facts. In my opinion, reporting facts during a terrorist attack needs to be the utmost of national concern.

Of course, the same mainstream media that has been clamoring to alter my 2nd Amendment right will falsely decry a violation of their 1st Amendment rights. The irony would be delicious.

Using a national tragedy to acquire ratings is a part of the business. Using a national tragedy to promote narratives, without the basis of fact, is everything that is wrong about the modern day media.

Spreading misinformation at a time when facts are needed is irresponsible. It’s the exact opposite of what the media is supposed to be doing. When will news organizations go back to their journalistic roots of confirming facts through multiple sources before reporting?

I think I know the answer to that question.

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