The old carpentry rule is one that applies to media as well:
“Measure twice. Cut once.”
Simple one to live by in the news business… because once that cut is made, you can’t un-ring the bell. Can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. Can’t put Humpty Dumpty back together (you get the idea).
To that end, it’s odd to watch CNN’s handling of audio it obtained allegedly from the shooting of Michael Brown by officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson. To recap, the audio of shots being fired was played on CNN Tonight, anchored by Don Lemon, on Monday night. Lemon (in Ferguson) was careful to point out that the tape’s authenticity had not been independently verified, but a decision was made back in New York to play the audio anyway.
As Mediaite’s Andrew Kirell noted at the time: “Count this audio as yet another chapter in the media’s running book of scoops that were unverified but provided for ample cable news fodder.”
Fast forward to this morning and CNN’s morning show New Day: Michaela Pereira interviews Former LAPD officer David Klinger and CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes to get their expert analysis on the tape’s authenticity. You can read about and watch the interview here, but the short answers are: Klinger thinks “someone is trying to punk CNN,” while Fuentes calls the tape “a hoax.”
Washington Post media reporter Erik Wemple correctly describes the New Day interview with Fuentes and Klinger as CNN engaging in “self-auditing.” But to do so almost 36 hours later is–and I can’t get away from this word–odd. Here’s two more to describe the way the network originally handled it when the audio was first handed to them: utterly backwards.
If applying the measure twice, cut once rule, CNN would have called experts like Klinger and Fuentes on Monday night upon obtaining the tape to have them verify if it was a hoax or not before going to air with it. This process would have taken no more than ten minutes given that Fuentes says he knew it was fake the minute he heard it for the first time. Remember, Fuentes is on CNN’s payroll…it’s not like it would have been very hard to find him.
Reports via anonymous sources have also occurred as it pertains to a Officer Wilson having his eye socket broken by Brown in a struggle moments before the fatal shots were fired. The difference is that while Fox News seemingly was singled out for the fractured eye socket report, few mention that the Washington Post and ABC News have reported versions of that story through their sources as well (Note: WaPo reported “fractured eye socket” while ABC said a source close to Wilson suffered a “severe facial injury”). In the case of CNN’s exclusive audio, the network appears to be alone in terms of having access to it and broadcasting it (before it was rebroadcast with attribution to CNN, of course).
Moving forward, CNN will be subject to trial-by-Twitter (which has already commenced). Media watchdogs have the knives out. CNN’s competitors will call the network’s credibility into question. The days of making mistakes and suffering lapses in judgment and not having an immediate, bleach-light microscope shining any and every error are long gone.
CNN gets credit for the self-audit on its own morning show.
But they’ll get anything but credit for a needless self-inflicted wound that continues a theme which has exploded in the supersonic social media era: putting the value of being first over the priority of being accurate.
>>Follow Joe Concha on Twitter @JoeConchaTV
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