New York Post “Sinks to a New Low”

o-NEW-YORK-POST-570In the wave of reporting activity surrounding the manhunt for those responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings, the New York Post found itself erroneously reporting that two men were wanted by authorities for questioning. The photographs of the men, who were later cleared by authorities, appeared on the front page of the paper (see above). Responding to the newspaper’s actions via Twitter, the website Salon characterized the Post’s decision to publish the photographs (without first being absolutely certain that the individuals were indeed wanted by authorities) as sinking “to a new low.”

But the New York Post didn’t stop there. They published the photograph of the two men on their website, too (see the screenshot below). Presumably, the paper publishing the photo on its website preceded publication in the newspaper. What’s troubling here is that even after realizing that it had erred, the Post kept the photograph on its website (as of this writing), updating the posting only to report that the “Two men [in the photograph who were] probed in the Boston Marathon bombings [were] cleared by investigators.”

Untitled copyLike the case involving CNN’s erroneous reporting, this case again points to the need for news organizations to not jump the gun when reporting on suspects potentially involved in a crime. Wrongfully identifying people as being sought by authorities can be damaging. As Salon reported, “one of the two whose faces are still on the Post’s website is a local high-school track runner who’s been protesting his innocence on a Facebook post on which he’s changed his name.” Moreover, such erroneous reporting can harm an investigation. As Al Tompkins wrote on Poynter’s website, “In addition to the harm that comes to an individual, there is harm to the investigation in that the public begins to believe authorities know who they are looking for, and there is no need to help further.”

In its code of conduct, the Society of Professional Journalists suggests that journalists should “do no harm.” In its apparent rush to report news on the bombings, it seems clear that the New York Post violated this dictate in a particularly egregious way.

Sources: CNN, New York Post, poynter.org, salon.com

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2 thoughts on “New York Post “Sinks to a New Low”

  1. dakotahbraun says:

    Jeff, you’re so right. We’re humans, we make mistakes, yes. But journalism particularly involving a crime, shooting, bombing, mass murder, etc. we are so eager to blame someone and make sure we all have someone to blame our sorrowed and hatred toward. We like to know reasons behind things; therefore, though it may be erroneous, we find something… anything… as quickly as possible. And, unfortunately, consumers are willing to believe it.
    Now, it’s one thing to make a mistake, and it’s another thing to leave the mistake up online. They know it’s a mistake, why are they not fixing it? I saw something similar from the Omaha World Herald a few weeks ago. It was a tweet with a very noticeable grammatical error. Surprisingly, no one commented on it, and to this day the tweet is still up.
    You know, it’s things like this that make people weary of journalists. And the thing is, we aren’t out to hurt anyone… It’s definitely unfortunate.
    Great post, Jeff!

  2. Jeffrey Maciejewski says:

    Thanks, Dakotah! That’s my gripe–that the NY Post seemed defiant in leaving the photos up online, all the while one of the two was reportedly emphasizing his innocence. Very sad.

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