The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Speculation Is Not Reporting

Posted on | January 9, 2011 | 12 Comments

That is the lesson that journalists (and bloggers) ought to learn from yesterday’s coverage of the Arizona mass murder:

Less than four hours transpired between the time the shootings occurred in the parking lot of a Tucson grocery store and the time the Associated Press identified 22-year-old Loughner as the suspect. The first AP bulletin to identify him misspelled his name “Laughner,” and another couple of hours passed while reporters, bloggers and amateur newshounds corrected the spelling and began to assemble enough background on Loughner to get some idea of what inspired this crime.
Jared Loughner is crazy.
That simple four-word sentence adequately summarizes Loughner’s apparent motives. However, in the five or six hours between the shooting — in which Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) was among a dozen people wounded, and six people including a federal judge were killed — some reporters apparently felt obligated to fill the information void with reporting that fed into a frenzy of political speculation. . . .

Please read the rest of that at The American Spectator.

You may have noticed that I haven’t yet posted anything here about the second “person of interest” being sought by law enforcement in connection with this Arizona shooting. That’s because my hunch is that this person wasn’t actually complicit in Jared Loughner’s crime. Police want to question the guy, but given the testimony that Loughner was a “loner” and evidence that he was mentally ill, I rather doubt that this will turn out to have been a folie à deux.

That’s what we call “news judgment.” My hunch about the “person of interest” angle being a red herring may be right or wrong, but after 25 years in the news business, I’m content to wait for the police to do their work before I write anything that might encourage baseless speculation. The reason I’m explaining this to you is because so many other people have demonstrated a willingness to engage in speculative reporting without waiting for the facts to be established.

What facts have been established? What do we actually know? At this point, a little more than 24 hours after the shootings, we finally have a confirmed list of names of those killed Saturday: Judge John Roll ,63; Dorthy Murray, 76; Dorwin Stoddard, 76; Christina Greene, 9; Phyllis Scheck, 79; and Gabriel Zimmerman, 30. Michelle Malkin has more background on these vicitms.

While I’m often wild and reckless in my commentary — and especially my jokes — when it comes time to do actual reporting, it is generally a wise policy to err on the side of caution. Also, it is important not to rely on dubious sources like Janet Napolitano’s Department of Homeland Security.

UPDATEText of Memo From the Department of Homeland Security on Arizona Shootings


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