“‘Horribly mutated’ seafood found in Gulf Coast, likely caused by BP spill,” screamed the headline in GlobalPost.com, an online news aggregator in Boston used by such well-known media as CBS News and PBS NewsHour. GlobalPost’s story used a stock photo of fish in a New Zealand market, which had no relevance to the story and further misled readers.
The story was rewritten by a GlobalPost freelance writer in Los Angeles from an original video piece by Al Jazeera with a slightly less sensational headline, “Gulf seafood deformities alarm scientists.” GlobalPost’s freelancer, Amy Silverstein, even injected her own side editorial comments, perhaps to heighten drama:
One fisherman told Al Jazeera that some of the crabs she’s seen appear to be “dying from within…they are still alive, but you open them up and they smell like they’ve been dead for a week.” Yum.
Note the word, “Yum,” among other embellishments.
When I contacted Silverstein through Twitter (@amysilstein) to ask about the misleading photo, her reply was: “Stock photo fail!” Yet, even admitting an error, GlobalPost didn’t change the photo.
Less than twelve hours later, more than 3,000 other media outlets around the world had picked up and spread the story, according to a Google search. It reminds me of an old phrase about reckless journalism, “Don’t let facts get in the way of a sensational story.” So goes it in today’s media world.
I know nothing of Al Jazeera’s thoroughness and skill in covering stories but their video report was sloppily done, in my view, with incomplete or questionable sources and unattributed statements. Furthermore, the Al Jazeera reporter never mentioned whether the story could have been cooked up by plaintiff’s attorneys trying to extract more money in damages from BP as a result of the oil spill in the Gulf two years ago.
This, my friends, is the media world we are living in.