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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Major Media Failure In Elementary School Shooting: Rushed To Break The News Without Confirming First

By Susan Duclos

The very first rule for the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics is: "Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible."

Confirm and verify, the lesson everybody who writes should learn from the horrible tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 year old Adam Lanza,  killed 27-28 people, 20 of them being children aged 5 to 10 years old.

In a rush to break the news, outlets like SlateCNN and Huffington Post  reported information without confirming or verifying the information and ultimately targeted the wrong person as the shooter as well as linking to that person's Facebook page.

Corrections have been made but not before the person targeted, Ryan Lanza, started receiving death threats.

The public profile photo on the Facebook account was shared over 3,000 times (Update 5:00 EST: It’s up to 14,000 times now). Many came with scary comments. “You Is A Dead Man Walking…” read one. “WHAT COULD POSSIBLY MAKE YOU WANT TO KILL LITTLE BABIES,” read another. “Selfish. Cowardly. Weak. Damned,” read a third.

Yet the owner of the page posted “Fuck you CNN it wasn’t me” and “Everyone shut the fuck up it wasn’t me,” saying he was at work during the shooting. The page owner’s status updates were set to private — a terrible irony, since the absence of the visible denial evidently resulted in more people posting condemnations of him on his Facebook page. By about 3 p.m. Eastern, the page had been taken down.

Update, 6:05 p.m. EST: Fox News is reporting that a Ryan Lanza of Hoboken, N.J., is Adam Lanza’s brother and is currently in police custody for questioning. It is not clear that Ryan Lanza is the same person as the proprietor of the Facebook account discussed in this piece. AP is reporting Ryan Lanza is not believed to have played any role in the shooting.

The mainstream media's incompetence doesn't end there though, they reported continuously that Adam Lanza's mother was a teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Example- Washington Post:

His parents, Nancy and Peter Lanza, separated about a decade ago, and his mother, a kindergarten teacher at Sandy Hook, remained in the family’s home with her sons, Adam and Ryan Lanza, according to Ryan Kraft, 25, who was a neighbor.

A quick look at the Sandy Hook Elementary School website "staff" page, would have shown easily, had the media bothered to confirm and verify, that Nancy Lanza, Adam'smother, isn't listed as a teacher.

Then reports claimed Nancy Lanza was a substitute teacher at the school,  yet now they are reporting she may not have been a teacher at the school.

It was also initially reported that Nancy Lanza was killed at the school along with the other school staff and children, later to be corrected the report she was found dead in her home. Also initial reports claimed Adam Lanza's father was killed at their home, yet he didn't live there and was not.

Furthermore, by reporting the name Ryan Lanza, Adam's brother because he reportedly has Ryan's ID, that also led to meda reporting the shooter was 24 years old, when in reality Adam was 20. That led to political bickering about gun control laws where a 24 year old could obtain a weapon after the mandatory waiting period, but a 20 year old could not and Adam, was in fact, denied when he attemped to purchase a gun.

It is unlawful to sell or permanently transfer a handgun to any person who is forbidden to possess a handgun, or to a person under 21. (Source)

Later reports said the gun were owned by the mother, Nancy.

The massive amount of incorrect information reported could have been avoided had writers and major news outlets followed the golden rule of writing... confirm, then verify.

This should be a lesson to everyone who writes for a living, whether it is for a media outlet or even blogging for a living.