Coverage of Giffords shooting shows news media has skewed priorities

Like the rest of you, I was horrified by the news today of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords being shot at point-blank range in an apparent assassination attempt outside of a grocery store in Tucson. Fortunately, doctors are optimistic that she will recover, although a federal judge and nine-year-old child were killed and 12 others were reportedly wounded.

There is sure to be much discussion in the days to come about what motivated the alleged shooter. But the media coverage of this incident was indicative of something that has become all-too-typical of the news media – the emphasis on getting the story first over getting the story right.

At 2:30 p.m. ET this afternoon, the media was rushing to report that Giffords had died. Less than an hour later, a representative of University Medical Center in Tucson announced that Giffords was alive and in surgery. And at 4 p.m. ET this afternoon, the hospital said that she was “responding to commands” and that they were optimistic about her recovery.

This was certainly not the first time the media has gotten the story wrong in an effort to get the story first. And therein lies the problem. When I was first learning the news business more than a decade ago, I was taught that getting the facts correct was paramount.

Now I’m not naive enough to think that this is an entirely new phenomenon (remember the networks calling and retracting Florida twice on Election Night 2000?), or that it is easy for the news media to avoid the temptation to rush the story out. Being able to claim that you had a story first is a tempting goal to shoot for. And the presence of so many media outlets that can report breaking news as it happens makes it that much harder to wait until you’re sure you have everything right before going with a story.

But the news media needs to resist that temptation. Can you imagine how people close to Rep. Giffords must have felt upon hearing that she was dead, when in reality she was not? Don’t shoot first and ask questions later. Get the story right. It’s better to have the story last and have it right than to have it first and get it wrong.

%d bloggers like this: