Guest Post: Larry Kane on Cable Nets and the Boston Bombing

The following guest post, on multiple news outlets getting the story wrong in Boston last week, comes from Larry Kane, former anchor at WPVI, WCAU and KYW Philadelphia, among others.

It’s been nagging at me for five days now. I try to reconcile the situation, but I can’t. I value and cherish our First Amendment rights.

At the time of the bombings in Boston, I was in the city working with reporters, anchors and management at two NBCUniversal properties, including New England Cable News (NECN). Watching the story unfold, and witnessing the reaction of the citizens of the Boston area, was an exercise in examining fear, anxiety and undaunted courage.

A few days later, I returned to Philadelphia. What happened at that point was an episode that was hardly courageous, and extremely unwise. When CNN and others reported that there was a suspect in custody last Thursday, the people of New England were relieved. The Associated Press and Fox News followed with the same story. CNN reporter John King reported the story and Wolf Blitzer broadcast it with energy and abandon.

The story was wrong.

A lot of people have criticized the cable networks, but they miss the point. While NBC, ABC, and CBS didn’t take the bait, CNN continued with its report, until it was denied by the local and federal law. CNN backtracked, but never really offered any contrition.

For hours, the people of New England were led to believe there was a suspect in custody. And therein lies the danger of taking reporting risks in the middle of a civil emergency. Did the report lead people to let down their guard, and believe the crisis was over?

Obviously, King’s sources were not correct. Nor was the casual backing off by the network on a story fraught with dangers, especially the danger of people thinking they were safe again.

I’ve said for years that information is dangerous business. Never is it more dangerous than during a terrorist attack.

And then I remember the words of Blitzer during the Newtown massacre late last year, when he kept repeating, “We hear”…”We hear”…”We hear that the death toll is…” How many people did he scare on that already terrifying day?

CNN should investigate how sources are used and whether King shared his sources with his bosses.

In the news business, we don’t casually “hear” in the middle of a clear and present danger. In the news business, we report–not based on hearsay, but on facts.

NBC, CBS and ABC opted to be second on the story and right, not first and wrong.

That is what credibility is all about. Being first, with bad information, can be deadly.

We can be polished, charismatic and smooth. But our credibility is based not only on the truth, but on our compassion for the people we serve.
Larry Kane, known as the dean of Philadelphia television news anchors, recently marked his 53rd anniversary in broadcasting. Kane hosts the Voice of Reason program on The Comcast Network, is a contributor to KYW Newsradio, and is a consultant for Comcast Sports Group. His books include Larry Kane’s Philadelphia, Ticket to Ride, Lennon Revealed and Death By Deadline–the latter a cautionary mystery about the dangers of bad information broadcasted by out-of-control local TV news operations.

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.