NPR Explains Erroneous Report of Giffords' Death

A number of news outlets erroneously reported that Rep.
Gabrielle Giffords had died in the Arizona shooting, with NPR among the first.
The noncom news organization's executive editor, Dick Meyer, posted an editor's
note on NPR's Web site that could explain why so many news organizations got it

Those included both CNN and Fox News, which briefly reported
she had been killed before un-reporting it, according to video clips from CNN's
own Reliable Sources Sunday show.

According to Meyer, the information came from "two
different government sources," including from one in the Sheriff's
Department in Pima County, where the shootings took place Saturday.

Two confirmations are generally the standard for sourcing
stories, but Meyer said that "in a situation so chaotic and changing so
swiftly, we should have been more cautious."

He called it "a serious and grave error," and
apologized to the families of the victims and NPR's listeners and Web readers.

CNN also apologized for the mistake, pointing out that it
corrected it within 15 minutes.

"On Saturday, January 8 at 2:20 p.m. (ET), CNN reported that
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had been shot and killed, along with 6 other people, in
Tucson, Arizona, citing two unnamed government sources, both of whom have been
reliable with information in the past," said a CNN spokesman in an
e-mail to B&C

"At approximately 2:35 p.m. (ET), CNN began reporting that
officials on the scene said the Congresswoman had not died, information that
conflicted with the earlier reports of the death of the Congresswoman,"
the spokesperson added. "We deeply regret the error."

ABC News chief Ben Sherwood also acknowledged that while his
network did not report Giffords had died on its broadcast network, its Website
did post a banner reporting her death for about ten minutes, though he says the
banner was sourcing other reports, not one from ABC News.

"That was a mistake," Sherwood said.

In a blog posting Monday, journalism ethics group The
Poynter Institute
talked with Kathryn Schulz, author of the book Being Wrong, who said that it was an understandable mistake and one
"I think we'll keep seeing in journalism no matter what we do.", which tracks media mistakes, compiled a
list of the early reports and subsequent corrections

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.