Rewriting last week’s history

The Boston Marathon bombing story has reached the repair-the-media-image stage.

Jack Shafer, who covers media for Reuters, seems to suggest that those major mess-ups might just be your fault, news-consuming public. You put too much pressure on, expecting perfection.


Near-perfect news could be printed and broadcast if reports were vetted and peer-reviewed for weeks or months before publication. But readers desire timely “journalism in lieu of dissertation,” to pinch Edgar Allan Poe’s succinct phrase, and willingly accept a certain level of error as long as the news organizations readily acknowledge their mistakes. Most of us accept minuscule failure rates when buying a new car or refrigerator, knowing that some will fail us in surprising and unpredictable ways. Likewise, we make a similar bargain at the dinner table, accepting low levels of mercury and arsenic in the food we eat and the water we drink, as long we’re kept informed and the low levels do not cause illness.

Just. Stop. The fact that some news organizations — WBUR in Boston strikes me as one — got so much, so right, so fast, so unhysterically — betrays the assertion that somehow the CNNs were victims of a system that’s designed against them. Nobody is looking for perfection. They’re just not looking for this:

  • KTFoley

    Thank you for this. And for the piece that follows.

  • BJ

    Oh the payoff on that daily show clip was well worth the watch.