Did you hear about the bombing in Boston, near the finish line of the Boston Marathon?
Oh, and did you hear also that the authorities made an arrest in the case 48 hours after the blasts killed three people and injured more than 100 others?
The first event is true. The second one is false, although some of the cable news networks reported it as true.
Once the network executives discovered their mistake, you almost could see them landing on their keisters as they backpedaled away from what they had “reported” as fact. CNN might have been the most embarrassed of all of them, as that network was first to “break” the news of an arrest, only to take it all back.
Therein lies one of the critical problems with today’s media — and that is why public television continues to stand out, in my view, as a reliable source of information on public affairs.
The Public Broadcasting System, which airs on KACV-TV, will be all over the story as the week winds down. Its coverage will be smart and measured.
I don’t intend to denigrate the fine reporters who work for the cable news outlets. A certain dynamic is driving them, though: It’s the pressure to be the first out with a story. They can deny it all they want, but that’s what it is and occasionally, as we saw this week, that pressure can produce bite marks on the backside.
Federal, state and local authorities are working hard to track down the individuals responsible for what President Obama has described aptly as “an act of terror.” They appear to have caught a break in the large amount of forensic evidence left behind by the blast that occurred Monday morning in Boston. They also are working with some video recordings gathered by department store security cameras.
Everyone wants a resolution to this hideous crime, and that must include the reporters who are working the story for their viewers.
The rush to be first must not overcome the need to be correct. The Public Broadcasting System, which relies on public support, has understood that principle from the get-go. To get it wrong, to give the public false information — only to take it all back — betrays the public trust.
PBS will get it right … and that counts most of all.