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By Jeremy Schiffres, Daily and Sunday Freeman, Kingston, N.Y.

Friday, September 11, 2009

To air is human

I've said it before, but it bears repeating: In the news business, it's more important to be right than to be first.

The pitfalls of rushing to air with an unconfirmed story were glaringly evident again this morning as CNN, and then Fox News, reported a Coast Guard vessel had fired on a boat on the Potomac River between Washington, D.C., and Virginia.

CNN cited an overheard two-way radio transmission in reporting the Coast Guard vessel fired 10 shots after the boat ignored warnings to vacate the area because of 9/11-related restrictions. Fox then reported the same information, citing a Reuters report as its source. (I immediately went to Retuers' Web site and found that its information was based on — you guessed it — CNN's report.)

The reports — all of them — turned out to be wrong. Yes, the Coast Guard was conducting an exercise on the Potomac (which seems pretty brainless given the date on the calendar and the river's close proximity to the Pentagon, which was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001), but no shots were fired. The two-way radio conversation that a CNN employee heard apparently was one Coast Guard member issuing simulated instructions to another member to start shooting.

CNN was inexcusably irresponsible in reporting something it had not confirmed, and Reuters and Fox should be ashamed of themselves for simply repeating the bogus information without checking its accuracy.



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