WMU News

Competition among news media leads to misinformation

Sept. 24, 2001

KALAMAZOO -- Despite efforts to check facts, several erroneous reports were broadcast by the news media in the wake of terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. Those included the announcement that five missing rescuers were freed from an SUV buried beneath the rubble of the World Trade Center.

The broadcast of several erroneous reports was understandable under the circumstances, says Dr. Sandra Borden, a WMU associate professor of communication and media ethics specialist.

"They were doing news on the fly," Borden says. "So it's understandable given the circumstances. It was completely a surprise and the people on the air were just as hurt and shocked as everyone else."

Borden says that immediately after the attacks, news anchors were very careful about information they were releasing. In cases where there was any doubt, anchors were careful to hedge and say that the information had not yet been confirmed. Some of that care, however, evaporated as time went on, Borden adds.

"I do think this is one of those stories where you could see people's humanity. By humanity that also includes making mistakes, rushing to judgment, talking and thinking out loud, speculating. I thought they got a little less careful as the days wore on. There was a sense that once they got a chance to recuperate and regroup and start rehashing and repackaging things that they got a little more sensationalistic."

Media contact: Marie Lee, 616 387-8400, marie.lee@wmich.edu

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