(SNN) - CNN is ostensibly a “news” network. That is, they claim they report “facts". Sometimes they have people who have “opinions” about facts who then go on camera with people who have opposite opinions and shout at each other. These are called “discussion shows.”
One of the conceits of “news” carriers is they should start first with “facts” and then let opinions flow from there. (Of course, none of this applies to Fox “News” Channel. Fox treats facts like car buyers treat Undercoating. It’s an option they’d prefer to skip for bigger woofers and more bloviated gasbags.)
When you get ‘facts” wrong in the first place, it tends to lead to mistaken opinions, soaring ratings, and snippy notes from your old Journalism professors. Traditionally news purveyors apologize for, or at least “regret”, such errors and correct them as soon as feasible.
For instance, when a San Francisco TV station reported the pilots of a crashed Asiana airplane included gents named Ho Lee Fuk and Sum Ting Wong, the station acknowledged the hoax and apologized for it as soon as they could find an anchor who had stopped laughing.
Newspapers have a correction section, sometimes headed “Erratum,” the Latin word for “He did it.”
We all make mistakes and CNN frequently gets their facts right. Many fine, hard-working journalists are employed there.
But a recent event at CNN disturbed me. CNN has what it fancifully calls an “iReport” on its website. “iReports” come not from its reporters, but from the public. Viewers are invited to submit stories, videos and pictures and, y’know try to get their facts straight.
This week, one iReport contained at least two glaring inaccuracies under the scary-ass headline: “Giant asteroid possibly on collision course with Earth” CNN reported there was a 50% chance that humanity would be wiped off the face of the planet in the not too distant future. Our last day would be March 35th, 2041. (Full disclosure: The wife and I have non-refundable opera tickets that night.)
- Boo-Boo Number One: There is no March 35th in 2041, or any year.
- Boo-Boo Number Two: The story is a crock of crap.
One key to the crockability was the keywords for the item were “science” Space” “Earth” and “Bieber.” For all the kid's shortcomings, he’s no planet killer--yet.
Someone should have smelled Errata—or at least Justin’s cologne. Most did. The story barely made a ripple among the news community that day.
The next morning our local paper, the Los Angeles Times, had a page one story about movie scoring jobs moving overseas. Nothing about an asteroid playing the Dinosaur Card on our home planet, however. (“Movie scoring” refers to adding music to a film, not what you thought it was, you dirty-minded rascal, you.)
I then checked CNN’s iReport:
“This iReport is not available
CNN PRODUCER NOTE: NASA has confirmed via email that this story is false. The iReport has been removed.
That was it. No apology. No correction. No listing of specific Errata.
Lucky for us, NASA was reading its emails and the “community” got its panties in a bunch, or it might still be posted.
Anyone can play reporter for iReport--no journalism degree, no experience, no J-school debts to pay off. Just sign up, promise not to libel anyone, or violate copyright laws, or ask to be paid for your work.
This sentence,wrappd in the Legalese, sums it up nicely:
“Users are solely responsible for anything contained in their submissions…”
That’s a get out of jail free card for CNN. But it’s also a Shoot-Your-Self-in-the-Corporate-Foot card for the CNN Imprimatur. Few civilians make a distinction between iReport and CNN reporters’ reports. Many don’t care if it’s Wolf and someone just woofin’. CNN is CNN is CNN.
So when a story so egregiously wrong, so fear-mongering, and so just plain dumb-assed as this appears, Truth in Journalism takes yet another hit. CNN, television news, and the entire news profession is further besmirched, and it’s not a profession that can take much more besmirching.
Even when journalistic accuracy goes away, people’s desire for information does not. The news vacuum is replaced by a great sucking cavitation into which rush propaganda, manipulation, brainwashing, lies, cynicism, distrust, and even some really bad stuff, too.
Meanwhile, the next time someone says something big will bump into the Earth, you might want to check first with Salon's “Bad Astronomy” guy.
ERRATUM: My wife and I do not have opera tickets March 35, 2041. They are Symphony tickets.
John "Cork" Corcoran. Visit Cork's websites here and here. Connect with: "John Pesky Corcoran" on Facebook and "@OldCootCork" on Twitter
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