For example, we very quickly found the suspect’s Myspace page before it was taken down. We pulled everything that we could off of it because we knew at some point that it would be taken down. But at the same time, there were questions about the spelling of his last name—AP had one version, we had a different version. We called AP and talked about where they had gotten their spelling; they deferred to our spelling of the name. Then there were still questions about whether the photos on that Myspace page were of Loughner or of someone else—and we know what CNN ran into in terms of airing the wrong photo. It took us several hours of having information but not feeling comfortable that we had the appropriate confirmation to use that information. I understand the rush to try and get the story, but at the same time I think it was a cautionary experience for all of us to remember those core practices and standards in moments of chaos.
What impact does social networking, and the rush to break news on technologies like Twitter, have on breaking news reporting of this kind? Does it exacerbate the competitiveness and the problem of inaccuracies?
I see it from two perspectives. Just as the invention of television and the twenty-four-hour cable cycle elevated the rapid response mentality, this has added to that. There’s an expectation of the public’s appetite for information very quickly. It has its push and pull.
At the same time I also think the public, to a certain degree, has a greater understanding that information is being reported in real-time. And that that information can change. Our biggest challenge as an industry in trying to sort all this out is: how do we deliver that message in a way that readers and users understand this is what we know at this moment? And when we change it, we need to be transparent in the fact that we are correcting information that we had earlier, that we now know is not 100 percent accurate. I think because the public has such an insatiable demand for instant news, they also have a willingness to understand that we may not be 100 percent. But we’ve got to figure out how we work in that environment in a better way than we have up to this point. We have to set protocols for ourselves about how we correct information in real-time as much as we report information in real-time.
How easy or difficult was it to get information as the news was unfolding from the sheriff’s office, from the hospital, and from witnesses on the scene?
Information from witnesses on the scene was pretty easy to get. But obviously, as we know now, their versions differ. In that moment, with adrenaline rushing and all of the kind of heightened reality, we’re still not 100 percent sure what happened. For example, there are stories about a woman knocking a clip out of Loughner’s hand and then two men tackling him. The woman herself says he was already tackled on the ground and reaching for the clip out of his pocket when she grabbed it. The sequencing of events gets very distorted because of that heightened reality and the adrenaline flow.
We are still a little frustrated because the Pima Country Sheriff’s office still hasn’t given us a list of all of the injured. We still have six names that we have not been able to track down in terms of the people who were injured. We’ve been aggressively working that from the legal standpoint.
The University of Arizona Medical Center has been extraordinarily helpful, especially given the fact that they have HIPA laws that they could stand behind to some degree. Their daily updates have been incredibly helpful. And they were the ones who calmed the misinformation on Saturday when they finally released a statement saying that the congresswoman was in surgery and that she was indeed alive. I think they were helpful in trying to really get control of the information.
Where do you even begin to investigate a shooter once you have his name?
We ran the traps. We ran a Lexis search to get an address—or addresses, if you will; many people have that name and various spellings of that name. You try to narrow that down knowing that most likely he did live in Tucson. We then did the social media stuff, and that’s how we came up with the Myspace page very early in the reporting.