Another Tragedy, Another Media Failure

The news coverage of the attack on Rep. Gabrielle Gifford during her “Congress on the Corner” event made my blood boil.

My deepest sympathy goes out to all those involved – victims, family and friends – the purpose of this post is not to overlook anyone.

However, I do want to single some people out.

When the story first broke on Fox News and CNN, both news sources reported that Rep. Gifford had been fatally shot.

Then, with nothing but a big resounding “whoops,” they both “broke the news” that she had survived the attack and was in critical condition.

This sort of irresponsibility in journalism is what turns me off from the field.  Those not involved in the media may look at this “error” as only that – a mistake or a piece of bad information.

Hey, that’s cool if you’re talking about what time the mall closes – all right, you wrote 9 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. – no worries, I’ll go tomorrow.

But this is someone’s life, someone’s mother.

Having worked in the media, I can tell you this wasn’t a case of anything more than the typical media rush – running with a story before all the facts are on the table.  A case of “we think she’s dead, and so does Fox, so let’s go with it.”

What about all the people watching the news, friends and family of Gifford, who were misinformed?  Doesn’t anyone care about them?  Where’s the respect?

Disagree?  Still think I should let an accident be an accident?

Well, Gifford’s 20-year-old intern found her alive on the floor – he may have even saved her life – so where did these reporters get the information that she was dead?  They certainly didn’t ask anyone with a clue.

Who knows, maybe they got an exclusive interview with one of the janitors at the hospital right before shift change.

I spent two years of my life researching how journalists cover tragedy, using the Virginia Tech shootings as the primary case study, comparing the results to those of equally tragic events, such as 9/11, Columbine and Oklahoma City. I investigated reporter behavior, methods of information gathering, accuracy, sensationalism, and sensitivity, among others, in regards to the coverage of such events.

Revisiting those papers is not something I feel much like doing currently, but I’ll tell you, the results will make you sick.

And it seems my work, like the work of so many others, especially the Dart Center, has gone completely unheard in some circles.