Speed Kills…

The AP’s David Bauder writes about cable news’ sometimes reckless pursuit of being first ahead of being accurate…

The balloon boy story riveted cable news viewers a week ago. A flying saucerlike balloon had escaped from its tethers and Richard Heene reported to authorities that he believed his son Falcon was aboard. CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC all turned to the story to the exclusion of virtually all others.

Even in retrospect, it’s hard to argue against that judgment. It was an unusual story, with gripping visuals, of a young boy’s life in danger. Later, investigators alleged it was a hoax perpetrated by a publicity-hungry father.

What the story missed at the time was a bigger dose of skepticism and caution – more emphasis on the uncertainty of the report and curiosity about how a boy could fly in the structure.

In live broadcasts, anchors need to take care in emphasizing what is not known, said Frank Sesno, a former CNN Washington bureau chief who is now a professor at George Mason University.

“We’re not doing it enough,” he said, “because it’s too easy to seize on something that appears to be happening before our eyes and run with it.”

Perhaps tinged by disgust at the hoax itself, the media has suffered a backlash among people who believe too much time was spent on the story, said Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

4 Responses to “Speed Kills…”

  1. lonestar77 Says:

    I can’t speak for the other networks because I was only watching FNC but Shep Smith was incredibly skeptical. I thought it was a little akward because what if he was wrong? What if the kid was actually missing or had fallen out of the balloon? He kept using the word “hoax”. He was correct but at the time I cringed everytime I heard him say it.

  2. Shep also kept saying, “The parents need to look under the kid’s bed.” He even read an email on the air of someone ripping him for saying that.

    He was rightly skeptical, but FNC, like all the other cable nets, followed this thing for two hours.

  3. The previous two posts are right, I watched Shep as well and he was very skeptical, saying the kid was probably hiding under the bed.. and I could swear seeing a youtube compilation like “LOL at Fox saying we don’t know over and over,” which was.. the correct thing to do. Wrapped up his coverage (at 4 throwing to Cavuto) saying something like.. well, at least we had an hour and a half with no commercials watching a beautiful day in Colorado.

  4. Martha McCallum also mentioned the possibility of the boy hiding before handing off to Shep.

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