As reactions to the media's handling (or rather, mishandling) of breaking news during a busy week continue to flow in, perhaps none is more condemning than David Carr's latest column in The New York Times. The media critic came down hard on correspondent John King, newly appointed chief Jeff Zucker and the rest of the CNN news team that famously fumbled during the aftermath of the Boston bombing and hunt for the suspects. Most notably, the network erroneously reported the arrest of a suspect on Wednesday, when everybody now knows that a suspect wasn't arrested until Friday when police found Dzokhar Tsarnaev hiding in the back of a boat.
Carr has an analogy for that. In discussing the mistake, one that more than one person described as "devastating," Carr reminded us of the most recent moment that CNN's stolen the limelight — perhaps not in a good way:
It was not the worst mistake of the week — The New York Post all but fingered two innocent men in a front-page picture — but it was a signature error for a live news channel. … Until now, the defining story in the Zucker era had been a doomed cruise ship that lost power and was towed to port, where its beleaguered passengers dispersed. This week, CNN seemed a lot like that ship.
Zing. Inevitably, Carr's piece comes off almost as apologetic. In his parting words, the veteran journalist points out how even the president "wants CNN to be good." So when it's bad, it's hard to watch.
Slate's Fahrad Manjoo brought up a similar point last week in the immediate aftermath of CNN's arrested suspect debacle but cut the network a little more slack. "Breaking news is broken," he argued, pointing out how it wasn't just CNN or The New York Post that screwed up in the bedlam that was the immediate aftermath of the bombings and subsequent investigation. The real problem is that both Twitter and CNN now depend on technologies that make it possible to follow breaking news too closely," Manjoo wrote. Solution? When breaking news flashes onto your screen, turn off the screen.
So which one is it? Is CNN a big poop cruise, drifting along off the shores of reality, stealing too much attention and not adding enough value? Or is the whole system broken? Should we just give up on breaking news and just wait for the official New York Times version of the story the next day? Manjoo thinks so. Carr's not sure. And CNN — if CNN host Piers Morgan can speak for the network in reaction to all the criticism on Sunday night — CNN might've been wrong, but everybody's wrong now and then. And a lot of people were wrong last week, including The New York Times.