CBS’ John Miller was one of two reporters today who botched the identity of the person apparently responsible for killing at least a dozen people at the Navy Yard in Washington today.
The gunman carried the ID of another man and Miller, along with an NBC news reporter, didn’t wait for authorities to identify the suspect. Instead, he opted to report it. He was wrong, and had to retract his scoop and write a tortured excuse:
This changes a lot. It means the identity they believed they had of the gunman is wrong. It means that the possible motive — troubles the man was having with the Navy and with family — is not the motive.
And it means the rush to get the story first falsely implicated an apparently innocent man, although Miller didn’t go that far.
But he’s gone this far before.
From appearance, we will simply have to accept that reporters are going to pass along information that’s wrong when there’s breaking news, rather than get it confirmed first.
Slate’s Will Oremus says the fog of breaking news creates the opportunity to getting the story wrong.
“But there’s a difference between saying, ‘we’re hearing that there may have been more than one shooter,’ and saying, ‘we’re hearing that the shooter’s name was X.’ The difference is that the former can be walked back without leaving anyone’s life ruined in its wake,” Oremus wrote this afternoon.