Jon Stewart unhappy with CNN’s coverage of Boston Marathon bombing

Jon Stewart is unhappy with CNN for incorrectly reporting yesterday that the feds had arrested someone the Boston Marathon bombing.

In all fairness to CNN, AP reported the same thing. Clearly someone was telling the press something, and it wasn’t just them getting it wrong. It’s possible their sources got it wrong, it’s also possible their sources intentionally got it wrong. Perhaps the feds were trying to smoke someone out – convincing them that they were about to be arrested so that they would leave wherever they were, and possibly make a trail the investigators could find.

The problem with Stewart’s criticism is that if the media doesn’t report what they’re hearing, then they’ll only report what’s officially been told to them – i.e., press releases a la Jeff Gannon.  If you have trusted sources who have consistently been correct in the past, then it’s reasonable to trust them.  And again, don’t ignore the possibility that the feds were intentionally leaking misinformation.


Jon Stewart is unhappy with CNN over its reporting on the Boston Marathon bombing.

There’s one more thing to consider.  It’s extremely difficult to run a media company in today’s economy.  Even a small one, like ours.  Advertising revenue died after Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008, and it never came back.  It’s now a constant competition for pageviews (online) and eyeballs (on TV), so that we can bring in enough advertising dollars to keep ourselves above water.

I know for online media, every day we are forced to find something that will go viral in order to meet our daily quota of pageviews (the amount of pageviews we need in order to sustain the blog financially via our ads).  It’s why I stayed up until 2am last night covering the Texas fertilizer plant explosion, after waking up at 7am that same day just in case there was any breaking news on the Boston Marathon bombing.  In part, sure, I feel a duty to get the story out there.  But now more than ever, I also feel a compulsion to do anything I can to get the necessary traffic to keep the blog alive.

And every day the rat-race for viral stories starts over again.  It’s just the nature of the business, now.

People can mock CNN (and AP) for getting it “wrong.”  But if CNN doesn’t risk getting it wrong, people will turn the channel and watch the other networks instead.  Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.  That doesn’t mean CNN should be sloppy – and I’ve not seen anything suggesting they were sloppy.  But before we jump on the “ha ha, they got it wrong!” bandwagon, I think people need to understand that the pressures that all of us in the media face do not lend themselves to deliberate-ness.

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CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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28 Responses to “Jon Stewart unhappy with CNN’s coverage of Boston Marathon bombing”

  1. ChristopherGeorgeLatoreWallace says:

    Dear John Aravosis not Stewart. You are part of the MSM and the problem. STFU.

  2. Scout says:

    Great point re: Benghazi. So true.

  3. And One more thing, I resent the rush to shrug this incident off as a mistake. This was many things but “mistake” isn’t one. For one brief shining moment John King’s hood slipped and he exposed himself. I’ve watched King for years and this kind of racial profiling is not new to him.

  4. Oh you’re welcome. I wonder if Trayvon were a white, gay kid, would AmericaBlog immediately trot out it’s rainbow all the while playing a Taps midi file on loop. In any case, the “objectivity” would vanish.

  5. karmanot says:

    Wait until they report finding a turban on an adjacent roof.

  6. karmanot says:

    CNN has long since turned into an upper Middle Class FOX, but with out the Barbies. Grandpa Blitzer brings on the gravitas.

  7. karmanot says:

    Exactly, thank you…..It was gross journalistic racial profiling.

  8. karmanot says:

    Exactly, American media is just a glitzy version of Pravda only with guns. gays and Mr. God.

  9. BeccaM says:

    By the way, here’s another example of EXTREMELY irresponsible and lawsuit-liable reporting from the NY Post:

    Investigators probing the deadly Boston Marathon bombings are circulating photos of two men spotted chatting near the packed finish line, The Post has learned.

    In the photos being distributed by law-enforcement officials among themselves, one of the men is carrying a blue duffel bag. The other is wearing a black backpack in the first photo, taken at 10:53 a.m., but it is not visible in the second, taken at 12:30 p.m.

    The story was posted last night. Today, those two men were cleared. For what it’s worth, this resulted from a leaked email that was intended only to be shared among law-enforcement investigators. It wasn’t, as pointed out, distributed to try to get the media to collaborate in finding the two men in question.

  10. Ford Prefect says:

    I agree. In 2011, more than 31,000 people were killed in gun violence. That same year, 17 Americans were killed as a result of “terrorism.” Which is the bigger story? Which of those two stories has a bigger impact on Americans?

    Besides that, we don’t even know yet if Boston was terrorism. Taking this further, the government and media ONLY define terrorist acts when committed by Others, meaning non-whites. The biggest act of terrorism post-9/11 was the attack on a Sikh temple in WI. That didn’t get a week’s worth of hype, witch hunts and ritual attachment to victimization either. For some reason, the “press” was content to let the story play out on its own.

  11. John, I really am a fan of your blog. I really am. However, I’ve noticed a trend that you constantly treat race issues as…I can’t explain it quite well. As with the Trayvon Martin tragedy, you feign objectivity. (I’m just not quite certain it was racial. I was attacked by two armed, black guys once upon a time…so I just can’t be too certain. Maybe he was a thug…wink, wink) Not a correct quote but the sentiment is.

    This is not about CNN being wrong. News is wrong all the time. (Shocker! I know.) It’s about the RACIAL aspect to the reporting. Simply reporting that a “dark-skinned male” did it is racist, sensational and scandalous on a national news report for a country that’s always on the edge of whatever dark feeling it is in the midst of at whatever moment.

  12. nicho says:

    There is a huge difference between an industrial accident and a deliberate act of terrorism.

    Point of fact: More people died from tobacco-related illnesses and handguns in the US in 2001. Guess what got more coverage.

  13. Ford Prefect says:

    Well, if they’re purpose is not to report, but to confuse, excite or otherwise push the buttons of Fear and Loathing. Then they’re quite good at that. I don’t get the impression the muckymucks in the boardrooms care one whit about whether we trust them or not. They know they’ll be believed by enough people to get a reaction out of them.

    It’ll be interesting to see if the far more deadly plant explosion in TX gets more airtime than the Boston bombing now. If it does, then perhaps I’m being too cynical. But if it doesn’t, then the term “If it bleeds it leads” has been altered to fit new criteria.

  14. Ford Prefect says:

    When the story is being driven by official sources, it’s hardly “unfiltered.” It’s very much Pre-Filtered. Crowd-sourcing in a case like this is absolutely intended to create false leads.

    Why else would highly-trained, seasoned federal investigators opt to muddy already dark waters in this way? Reporters and editors, being human beings working under extreme pressure, are prone to making mistakes–that’s why there used to be rules about how to handle breaking stories of import. But when they are acting as stenographers for official sources, it’s not a mistake they’re making. It’s deliberately tossing “professional ethics” (scare quotes because I doubt there even is such a thing anymore) in the circular file.

  15. BeccaM says:

    It’s one thing to get a story wrong. The NY Post reporting 12 dead in Boston. The AP and CNN reporting that an arrest had been made. But it’s something else when a piece of identifying information is put out there that can potentially ruin a person’s life or put a bunch of people at risk for violent retribution. That’s when merely sloppy or gullible turns into irresponsible and potentially dangerous journalistic practices.

    So for example, we have CNN reporting repeatedly — and wrongly — about a ‘dark-skinned male.’ And unsatisfied with that, their on-air talent pressing the correspondent to speculate whether this male had a foreign accent.

    ‘Fantastic,’ I thought to myself. ‘We’re back to 9/11 and the wholesale scapegoating of anyone who looks and sound even vaguely Middle Eastern.’

    I was also reminded of the Atlanta Olympics bombings, and how the FBI and the mass media fed off each other as they hounded and falsely accused Richard Jewell — a hero who helped save dozens from Eric Rudolph’s bomb — of being the culprit.

    But anyway, I think we’re ignoring the bigger picture here. People do have memories, and my takeaway isn’t just that CNN and the AP goofed — it’s that I now know they’ll give me wrong information in an effort to be first with a story. Whereas, for instance, MSNBC did not. I’m now actually less likely to tune to CNN, even when they claim to have breaking news.

    One of the reasons I spend so much time here on AmericaBlog, John, is because you and your correspondents take the time to get things right — well, as much as possible. Your stories are well-researched and -sourced, and when there are mistakes, you own up to them. If that changed, if you went ahead and did as I saw happening over on those Reddit sub-forums where people were poring over Boston photos and declaring that this person or that must surely be the bomber, or as CNN has been doing lately and posting wrong information in a desperate desire to put being first over being right, I’d probably go elsewhere. Viral only works as long as there’s a reputation for accuracy and correctness to go with it.

  16. Ford Prefect says:

    More like two or more confirming sources. But that was ages ago, when things like facts and due diligence actually mattered. Today, the standard is, “It would be irresponsible NOT to speculate!”

  17. Ford Prefect says:

    And again, don’t ignore the possibility that the feds were intentionally leaking misinformation.

    Right. But if CNN and AP protect those sources, then the ethical responsibility lies with the outlets, not the people feeding them misinformation–who are only “doing their jobs.” Thus far, has any official source been burned? No? Well, that choice lies with the outlets’ management and no one else.

    The fact is, media outlets protect sources they know perfectly well are feeding them misinformation. They do it all the time (Iraqi WMDs, anyone?). They will continue doing it, no matter the net result of the propaganda being shoved into the audiences’ craniums. Propaganda is the primary function of the corporate media today. This is precisely why there is no devotion to facts or The Truth, much less good reporting.

    The media has been pushing the feds efforts at crowd-sourcing a very sensitive investigation, which is rather insane all on its own. It’s completely unethical by any reasonable standard of journalism. It has resulted in all sorts of false positives, which helps feed the story for a while longer. It won’t lead to “justice,” but it does promote the idea that we need to spy on each other, which I’m guessing is the whole point of a crowd-sourced witch hunt. If a some innocent souls get crushed in the process, it’s no big deal because it’s “good for business!”

  18. condew says:

    If the web can track me so that the refrigerator I looked at yesterday shows up as an ad today, they ought to be able to catch up with me later in the day to tell me the article I read this morning has been retracted this afternoon.

    If I can have buttons to choose the font size, why not buttons to choose the veracity of my news, somewhere between “incontrovertible fact that even Republicans accept” to “rumor overheard in the bar”.

    I think John Stewart got it right. CNN should do their best to get it right the first time, and CNN should take a brutal ribbing when they get it wrong. I appreciate that not only did CNN report the misinformation quickly, they also reported the corrections quickly.

  19. “One of the problems is non-stop coverage, in which they have to say something — even if they don’t have anything to say.”

    Excellent point, and honestly I’ve never seen the matter put so succinctly. When did the fetish for “round the clock” coverage of even trivial events start? I guess the idea of a “media circus” goes a long way back, but usually confined to local news outlets who would naturally be starved of noteworthy stories and hence desperate to latch onto anything. Think Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole or, much later, the “Baby Jessica” affair. But when did that attitude spread to national reporting? The Gulf War?

  20. cole3244 says:

    i watched morning joe criticize cnn & ap this morning but he didn’t mention fox who also reported the arrest rumor before backtracking, i assume joe didn’t want to burn his bridges with fox since with his political views thats the likely place he will end up lying and shilling for eventually.

  21. Drew2u says:

    And that’s the crux of the problem. Money is based on person-count (clicks or eyeballs) and as a news accumulation site, one is dependent on the speed of information. One is not going to know any faster what isn’t currently known.

    There’s so much to talk about today but the bulk of the morning news was dedicated to the funeral service for the victims of the Boston bombing. That’s easy to cover – point a camera and hit record – but doesn’t actually provide substance. All that resource could be dedicated to something more pertinent than what some guy is reading from what book at this particular instant.

    That’s why I really like the format of Rachel Maddow’s show. In the evening she has the time to digest the news of the day as well as give it a relevant context without the need to have a constant vigilance for the latest breaking modicum that may or may not be factually accurate. (she also avoids – as much as possible – the round-table babble that permeates too many news programs; as if The View was a model-standard for presenting journalism. But I digress)

    I’m not blaming you for anything, of course, but it does highlight the limitations placed on news distributors when they have to vie for money for survival.

  22. Drew2u says:

    Are you suggesting the news is being overly-produced? ;)

  23. nicho says:

    The net result of that, though, is that people will come to mistrust anything they hear from the media. At that point, the media might as well close up shop. It’s just noise and flashing lights — not information.

  24. Yeah, I remember what it was like before. I remember Christmas of 1989. Ceausescu was being overthrown in Romania, I’m at my parents for xmas, and my boss is calling me by phone asking for updates. We don’t have CNN, I have the chicago trib and the nightly news as my only two sources of info. And I’m supposed to know what’s going on in Romania when I can’t talk to the State Dept by phone since the phone isn’t secure. Then again, it permitted the media time to get the story right – or maybe it didn’t. They still had to make a decision at deadline time to go with what they had, and had the deadline occurred just as they were getting reports of an arrest they might have gone with it.

  25. Randy Riddle says:

    We don’t know what was happening at CNN. Perhaps they did have two sources.

    With the number of people involved in the investigation, I wouldn’t be surprised if the investigators spotted one or more individuals in photos and word got around that an arrest would be coming and passed that information along to the media. Or, it could have been some misinformation planted to try and flush out someone, we really don’t know.

    I think we have to come to grips with the fact that, with live tv and internet coverage, we’re looking at raw, unfiltered news as it happens – it’s not been digested and re-checked the same way it would be for a paper filing a story for publication or a story assembled for the six o’clock newscast.

    The false leads and misinformation seen with the cable networks today with a big story like this isn’t that different from what happened with the three networks with live coverage of the JFK assassination and aftermath. The bulk of the live unedited coverage from CBS, NBC and ABC of JFK is available at YouTube – I went through it some time back and it’s very similar to how the news networks cover (and mis-cover) stories today.

  26. nicho says:

    They’re all sloppy. One of the problems is non-stop coverage, in which they have to say something — even if they don’t have anything to say. Then, they start grasping at straws.

  27. nicho says:

    What’s interesting though is that some of the very people giving conflicting and erroneous reports two days after the event are the same ones who criticized the administration for not knowing exactly what was happening in Benghazi — halfway around the world — while the bullets were still flying. It used to be common practice in journalism that if you were to report something from an unnamed source, you had to have two sources.

  28. MJ says:

    I think CNN is sloppy. This isn’t the first time they’ve done something like this. I don’t turn to them anymore because I can’t believe what they say

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