In the minutes and hours following the Boston bombings, the media erupted with news, rumors, speculation – just what we’ve come to expect in this instant-access, instant-posting age. Truest to form was the knee-jerk maundering from the usual operators, who posted the rankest kind of rumors as fast as Twitter would permit. (No links to those, on purpose.) How do they live with themselves?
We’ve seen this again and again in recent times. Recall how a member of Congress was declared dead in the Tuscon shootings (by NPR and CNN, no less)? Recall the frothing BS that came immediately after the Newtown shootings? In retrospect, media creators — professionals and non-professionals alike — did some soul-searching after both of those.
It may be having an impact. After the Boston violence for the first time in my memory, I saw a knee-jerk response that moved in a gratifying direction: a host of cautions, including from media people, for all of us to wait for actual facts rather than rushing to judgment. These kinds of warnings were not unprecedented, of course – I and some others have been urging people to take a “slow news” approach in such situations – but I was struck by the large number I saw in the immediate aftermath of this event.
The Washington Post’s Eric Wemple cataloged some of the Twitter warnings. One of the best came from his colleague, Ezra Klein: “What we truly know right now is this is horrible. But be careful about retweeting things people think they know.”
I’ve been hearing this kind of thing lately from students, too. They know better than to believe what they hear and read, especially when it’s close in time to a major event. Slow news means taking a breath.
Of course, several hours later the media were looking for new news. I expect (and am already starting to see) a raft of speculation about suspects, motives, etc. It’s too much to ask news media to behave well for more than an hour or two. I’ll take that much, gladly.
Here’s one knee-jerk response we can almost guarantee, however. Law enforcement and national security people will seize on this to push their ongoing agenda to create a surveillance state where civil liberties are mostly a thing of the past.
My thoughts are with the victims and their families. Whatever we learn about who did this, much less why, let’s remember the human cost of this violence.
Meanwhile, as “consumers” of news, let’s recognize our individual obligation in these circumstances. Take a slow-news approach. Keep clicking the Refresh button in the browser. But wait for verified facts before you come to any conclusions.
(Corrected to fix misspelling of Eric Wemple’s name; ouch, sorry.)