In the wave of reporting activity surrounding the manhunt for those responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings, the New York Post found itself erroneously reporting that two men were wanted by authorities for questioning. The photographs of the men, who were later cleared by authorities, appeared on the front page of the paper (see above). Responding to the newspaper’s actions via Twitter, the website Salon characterized the Post’s decision to publish the photographs (without first being absolutely certain that the individuals were indeed wanted by authorities) as sinking “to a new low.”
But the New York Post didn’t stop there. They published the photograph of the two men on their website, too (see the screenshot below). Presumably, the paper publishing the photo on its website preceded publication in the newspaper. What’s troubling here is that even after realizing that it had erred, the Post kept the photograph on its website (as of this writing), updating the posting only to report that the “Two men [in the photograph who were] probed in the Boston Marathon bombings [were] cleared by investigators.”
Like the case involving CNN’s erroneous reporting, this case again points to the need for news organizations to not jump the gun when reporting on suspects potentially involved in a crime. Wrongfully identifying people as being sought by authorities can be damaging. As Salon reported, “one of the two whose faces are still on the Post’s website is a local high-school track runner who’s been protesting his innocence on a Facebook post on which he’s changed his name.” Moreover, such erroneous reporting can harm an investigation. As Al Tompkins wrote on Poynter’s website, “In addition to the harm that comes to an individual, there is harm to the investigation in that the public begins to believe authorities know who they are looking for, and there is no need to help further.”
In its code of conduct, the Society of Professional Journalists suggests that journalists should “do no harm.” In its apparent rush to report news on the bombings, it seems clear that the New York Post violated this dictate in a particularly egregious way.
Sources: CNN, New York Post, poynter.org, salon.com