After officials “contained” a school shooting at Great Mills High School in Maryland on Tuesday, CNN host John Berman conducted an interview with a student named Jonathan while the school was still in lockdown.
Berman asked the student fundamental questions about the event, including what happened, what he saw, what he was being told, and at what time shots were fired. In addition to sharing his thoughts on the situation and how he felt, Jonathan reported that he heard one person was dead and seven injured.
But later reports showed that two, not seven, students were injured (one in critical condition), and the 17-year-old shooter was pronounced dead hours later at the hospital. While Berman did caution following his conversation with Jonathan that his reports were unverified, other media sites, including The Telegraph, reported that one student was dead and seven were injured based on the student’s interview.
Unverified information, though, shouldn’t be aired in the first place. It’s how misinformation is spread and confusion arises in the midst of an already terrifying and perplexing situation. It’s bad journalism.
In the midst of a crisis, especially on television, news stations are looking for whatever opportunities available to cover the breaking news. CNN had already interviewed an expert and needed another face on the camera.
Speaking with a witness, especially one who is a minor, should come with extra caution. CNN should have recorded the interview first to avoid reporting incorrect information.
It is what people would expect while reading an article online. TV journalism should be held to similar standards, too.
Perhaps worst of all in this interview, Berman asked Jonathan if he could stay on the line after the student had told him: “I’m going to have to let you go because the police are outside the door right now.”
No, Jonathan could not talk. He needed to follow police directions for the wellbeing of himself and his class.
Journalists should be proactive about reporting the news, but stories should not come before truth or safety.