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Anonymous TV Exec Whines About Twitter Snark After CNN SNAFU

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Slade Sohmer

By Slade Sohmer on April 17, 2013

If you stepped away from a television, Twitter and/or reality for a few hours on Wednesday, you may have missed the cable news clusterfuck that unfolded when CNN was first to (mis)report that an arrest had been made in the Boston Marathon bombing. CNN wasn’t alone, but it did put pressure on other outlets to speed up their own (mis)reporting, and it used the words “dark skin.”

Need a recap? Chart Girl has you covered (click to embiggen).


*[ed. note] Ironically, the chart has one inaccuracy: We can’t find evidence that CBS ever reported definitively that an arrest had been made.

Talking Points Memo has a good run-through of CNN’s awful afternoon:

CNN issued a statement to The Huffington Post’s media reporter Michael Calderone: “CNN had three credible sources on both local and federal levels. Based on this information we reported our findings. As soon as our sources came to us with new information we adjusted our reporting.”

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That much-mocked CNN walkback didn’t stop the FBI from laying the smack down on the media at large: “Contrary to widespread reporting, no arrest has been made in connection with the Boston Marathon attack. Over the past day and a half, there have been a number of press reports based on information from unofficial sources that has been inaccurate. Since these stories often have unintended consequences, we ask the media, particularly at this early stage of the investigation, to exercise caution and attempt to verify information through appropriate official channels before reporting.”

Wednesday’s sorry excuse for reportage was appropriately capped by this patently absurd anonymous email from a television executive to POLITICO’s media reporter Dylan Byers. Yeah, because snark is the problem:

While it’s a shame that credible “old media” organizations can blow something as big as this, it’s equally a shame that the twitterverse, blogosphere, etc, feels the need to dance on their graves.

The snark on Twitter has reached new heights… it’s not about getting to the truth or serving the public good, it’s about who can make the wittiest joke to impress their friends. This is an important story for the nation, and reporters from organizations new and old are trying to cover it. People make mistakes.

But, the Fourth Estate, flawed though it is, was set-up to be a watchdog for the Republic. Is there now a Fifth Estate — the social media universe that purports to be keeping an eye on the Fourth estate but really is just looking out for themselves?

Excellent use of “twitterverse!” and “blogosphere!” Hey, can we throw in “viral” while we’re flinging around outdated buzzwords?

The problem with this anonymous email is that it equates, unequivocally, the resulting snark with the colossal reporting failure by so many news outlets. One begets the other, and one does not exist without the other. No, anonymous emailer, it’s not “equally a shame” that people on the Internet dance on the graves of old media when the old media screws up the biggest story in America. The misreportage is a crying shame; the Twitter snark is a necessary shaming mechanism in this Era of Consequence-Free Media.

Until “snarkers” on Twitter and online news sites see overwhelming evidence that reporters who jump the gun and misreport important stories don’t have permanent job security, there will always be people there to point fingers, mostly through obvious coping mechanisms like humor and anger.

Take a look, anonymous executive, at Twitter’s handling of NBC’s Pete Williams, who was the first (and for a while, only) reporter to throw cold water on the report. Williams received universal kudos for exercising caution. No snark. Just kudos. Why? Because he got it right. Because he cares enough about “right,” not “first.” The Fifth Estate is a clever coinage, but the Fifth Estate can work FOR YOU, too. It only rises up when you provoke the beast.

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Slade Sohmer is editor-in-chief of HyperVocal and co-host of SiriusXM’s daily “Politics Powered By Twitter” show. Listen daily at 2 pm ET on Ch. 124.

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