Public Editor

Arrests in Boston Marathon bombing? Not so fast

Moving up a post from the old blog site with what’s breaking right now: CNN is as of this writing (1:55 p.m.) backing off earlier claims that a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings has been arrested. It’s currently running a headline saying, “Confusion over arrest reports in Boston bombing.”

More than ever, this shows the madness of trying to be first at all costs in a Twitter world. I think sources like The Star, which rely on the wires for out-of-town stories such as this, should be even more circumspect about joining in the “competition.” I’ve long believed nobody really cares which source gets it first, but readers sure do remember which ones got it wrong.

Original post:

Unexploded Boston Marathon bombs and the "fog of war"

The news will continue to filter out of Boston for quite some time now as investigators piece through what really happened at yesterday's apparent terrorist attack on the Boston Marathon. And one detail in particular points out the perils of unnamed sources especially with fast-breaking news.

Many news stories today quote "a senior U.S. intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation." He told the Associated Press that as many as two unexploded devices were found and disarmed.


Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick says no unexploded bombs were found.

So whom to believe?

The governor has the luxury of more time, as the report of recovered explosive initially surfaced not too long after the two blasts. It was only one of many inaccuracies yesterday, including one New York tabloid that was reporting 12 dead for much of the afternoon. Today the official count is three. It's as good an example as I've ever seen of the "fog of war" effect.

I know I say it all the time, but it bears repeating especially in cases such as this: Being "first" is much worse than being "late" with news if it turns out the journalist is wrong in the initial reporting.

In the world of Twitter, there is no longer any such thing as being first with a breaking story. Serious journalists need to step away from the absurd mindset that they're somehow failing if anyone else tweets news before them.