Your Lying Eyes

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17 December 2012

Sequence of Misinformation

The amount of misinformation that was reported on the Connecticut shooting is just staggering. I noted the initial reports on Drudge around 10:30 I think, and then would pop over to Google News every 15 minutes or so to check on the latest developments. This is my rough recollection of the timeline of the "reporting". Note that these times are not intended to be accurate, but only a rough guide to how I recall the reporting evolving throughout the day. If you were able to actually go back through the day in retrospect (which I don't think is possible), you'd probably find my timeline to be as big a mess as the reporting.

10:30 AM: Initial reports of a school shooting in Connecticut
11:00 AM: 1 person reported injured, school evacuated
11:30 AM: Principal might have been killed. May have been multiple shooters. Shooter was a father of a student in the school
12:00 PM: Multiple deaths reported, including a shooter. Still not clear on second shooter
1:00 PM: Finally, a death count of 27, including 20 children, was reported. Given the atrocious quality of the reporting throughout the incident, it is remarkable they got this one right so early on.
1:45 PM: Shooter's name is reported to be Ryan Lanza. He continues to be identified as a father of a student in the school while at the same time reporting that he is 20 years old.
2:00 PM: Shooter continues to be reported as Ryan Lanza, but that he is either  24 or 20 years old and father of a student.
2:15 PM: Student victims' ages reported as being between 6 and 10 years old. This would continue to be reported, including in the President's remarks, until corrected by the CME the next morning.
2:30 PM: Shooter's father found dead in Hoboken. It is now claimed that the shooter, rather than being a father of a student, is the son of a kindergarten teacher who was killed in her classroom along with her students. It would be a long time before this complete fiction would be corrected. It was later "corrected" to state that she was an aide, not a teacher, then that she was a former teacher, then a former aide, before we finally learned she was never employed there at all.
2:45 PM: Huffington Post reports that there are disturbing clues on Ryan Lanza's Facebook page
3:00 PM: Reported that a person in camouflage fatigues was led out of nearby woods in handcuffs announcing "I didn't do it." This person was reported to be the shooter's younger brother. In retrospect, this appears to be a conflation of the multiple-shooter reports with Ryan Lanza's actual Facebook wall post of "It's not me." While the reports of this person led out of the woods in handcuffs would persist for quite a while, nothing has been mentioned of it since.
3:15 PM: Shooter's identity now corrected to Adam Lanza, while it's still reported he killed his father in Hoboken before driving up to Connecticut to kill his mother and her students
3:30 PM: Shooter brought a rifle and two pistols. The rifle was found in his car. This falsehood would persist until the CME's press conference the following morning.

There were no doubt many other inaccuracies in the reporting that I don't recollect. What's fascinating is how it developed from initial reports of possible injuries to the principal and other adults by a father of a student into the madness it would later be revealed to be: a mass killing of kindergarteners by a deranged 20-year old with no connection to the school (other than that he lived nearby and attended it as a youngster years before). Reporters were obviously caught in a frantic and undisciplined game of "telephone". My feeling is that, while they are loathe to report anything that is not fully corroborated, there should be a way for officials to give reports a rating, like "red" for way off, "yellow" for not likely, and "green" for "on the right track." And in these mass shootings, word should get out early on in at least a general way that "it's really bad" or "limited in scope." Thus, the several hours of vague suggestions that there was just one adult injured or maybe one adult killed and another injured could have been short-circuited right off the bat.

The aspect of the reporting that has gotten the most attention is the initial identification of Ryan rather than Adam Lanza as the killer. But this is surely the most understandable error - particularly if it turns out to be true that Adam had his brother's ID on him at the time. At least it wasn't a completely unrelated individual. And from Ryan's standpoint, how much worse did it make his day to be incorrectly identified in the press as a killer versus the actual fact that it was his brother. But the other areas are just shoddy reporting, plain and simple.


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