In a crisis situation, it’s necessary and okay to demand media accuracy

“Boston Marathon Bombing Suspect Has Been Arrested and Is In Custody But Has Not Been Arrested and May Not Exist.”

Today’s media … what and who are you going to believe?

Here’s the problem – the people at the 24/7 cable new outfits, like CNN, Fox, MSNBC, as well as most local TV news stations, have forgotten what their business is all about. They’ve been playing entertainment so long that they’ve forgotten.  They are not in the business of entertainment but news.  News is about reporting news … things that happen in the world … accurately and credibly.

The media – especially cable TV – is like a drunk on a binge, and cannot control their near-insane rush for dramatic announcements, replete with bold red warnings of apocalyptic disaster on the screen. Everything is an “Alert” or “Breaking News.” Yet, it seldom is.

Wolf Blitzer saying over and over that John King has “exclusive information” is not news. It’s promotion, publicity, boasting. As it turned in the Boston terror story, King’s “exclusive” information was wrong. King was a font of misinformation … gossip.

Fox NewsCorporations and organizations have literally feared calling out the news media for lack of accuracy, bias and balance in reporting over the years. Perhaps it was fear of possible retribution or simply a concern for being seen as impolite to the media. Those days are over, I say. News organizations must become more accountable for recklessness.

Too much is at stake when a crisis hits for the increasing bad behavior of sloppy, sensationalistic reporting and media inaccuracy to be condoned. “Never let the facts stand in the way of a good story,” may be the cute old saying in the newsroom but they can no longer get away with it.

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“The drive for audience ratings is responsible for the outrageous behavior by ‘the media’ to be first to the neglect of accuracy,” writes veteran CBS and NBC television correspondent Ed Rabel. “In the final analysis, the media cuts their own throats by abandoning the challenging tenets of fair and accurate journalism.”

Here’s an inside view of today’s mainstream media:

  • Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN are no longer real news organizations, certainly not since the corporations that own them realized there are bigger ratings and profits in dramatic entertainment-style news.
  • Many of the seasoned, experienced behind-the-scenes news editors and researchers who once vetted news stories for accuracy are gone, replaced by young and inexperienced interns who are doing their best.
  • Many if not most news “anchors” or readers have no meaningful contacts to check stories themselves. They are just readers and ad-lib artists who fill time by sometimes making up stuff or making assumptions.
  • When you hear a television anchor or reporter say things like, “sources tell us” or “experts say” or “officials say,” it’s only true if a person or specific agency or organization is quoted. More often than not, it’s made-up.

If confronted with managing communications and the media during a crisis situation, here’s what to do:

  1. When today’s so-called “news media” is so reckless and inaccurate, it’s okay – if you are directly involved in the crisis situation – to call a news conference, gather all the reporters and cameras together, and demand accuracy in news reporting. There’s no need to pussy foot around … demand responsible reporting.
  2. Demand accurate reporting and good behavior. While anyone involved in a crisis situation has an ethical responsibility to provide accurate and factual updates, expect the same of the media … and tell them so. There’s no need to be polite with today’s reckless media. Be firm.
  3. Read back to them their own inaccuracies and discrepancies, like a Fox News anchor who was quoting “other news organizations” in the aftermath of the Boston terror incident.
  4. Stand in front of the cameras and say that while everything possible is being done regarding the crisis, the very nature of a crisis means that all information is not immediately known. Investigations must be conducted. In the meantime, the media must stop its entertainment circus. Yes, call it that … a circus.

If the media plays so loosely about the facts, maybe they will pay attention to our wrath … as viewers and advertisers.