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Media missteps after blasts

Narayan Lakshman
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Shell shocked:The scene immediately following an explosion at the 2013 Boston Marathon on Monday.— Photo: AP
Shell shocked:The scene immediately following an explosion at the 2013 Boston Marathon on Monday.— Photo: AP

From CNN’s unsubstantiated remark that a “dark-skinned male” may be a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing of Monday; to the Associated Press’ tweet that a suspect was in custody and would be brought to court soon, mainstream news outlets and their social media portals were seen as bungling in a bid to “out-scoop” each other following the attack.

Flurry of tweets

It began with a wild flurry of tweets and re-tweets over CNN’s John King’s comment on live television that he was “told by one of these sources, who is a law enforcement official, that [the suspect alleged to be in custody] was a dark-skinned male”.

Many, including MSNBC host Al Sharpton, railed against the Mr. King’s allusion to racial characteristics, saying, “These comments are very offensive... What King’s words did is to make every dark-skinned male in Boston a suspect, and that’s shameful.”

In the same clip on live television another senior CNN anchor, Wolf Blitzer, asked Mr. King, “We can’t say whether the person spoke with a foreign accent, or an American accent?... That would be premature?”

Similarly the Associated Press put out a tweet on Wednesday afternoon saying “Suspect taken into custody in marathon bombing, expected in federal court.”

‘No arrest’

The FBI immediately put out a message contradicting these reports, saying, “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.”

The FBI further cautioned that since such 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”.

Similarly the Boston Police said on Twitter, “Despite reports to the contrary there has not been an arrest in the Marathon attack.”

In a lighter vein, some in the media such as Stephen Colbert quipped, “No arrests, but at least we have not wasted any precious time not being suspicious of dark-skinned males.”


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