U.S. Media Jumps Gun on ‘Freed Hostages’ Report

Sometimes it’s so predictable that a local Iraqi provincial governor could be misinformed, overly optimistic, or fearing for his life when he releases a statement via AP such as:

“Police were able to free two of the foreigners kidnapped and they are in good health,” al-Waili said in a telephone interview. He said he thought they were Americans but could not yet confirm their nationality.

The wire copy ends by clarifying that U.S. officials could not confirm that statement, but apparently CNN, MSNBC, and everyone else failed to read that far before changing their headlines from 5 abducted (four Americans and one Austrian, who is reported killed – or perhaps one of the Americans was killed) to Police free 2 hostages.

Not so surprising, of course, a couple hours later when the revised AP copy reads:

A top Iraqi police official in Basra said none of the five kidnapped security company employees had been freed. He claimed the provincial governor, who announced the release of two of the hostages, had confused separate incidents in the region involving private security forces.

In the time it took me to write this — MSNBC has reverted back to the original headline but I was able to capture these screenshots from CNN and AOL. A big problem in Iraq reportingn that I have seen is the confusion regarding specific events (which can repeat themselves on a daily basis) and the time or day it occurred (Baghdad time is UTC+3, or 11 hours ahead of Los Angeles).

Therefore, when hostages are released — it cannot be assumed to be the same hostages. 14 contractors were abducted Thursday and it seems there is another group of contract security workers being mentioned, such as the reported killing of a British security guard. I can’t even follow these reports are so erratic, inconsistent and all over the place.

And let’s not forget that earlier this week, 150 Baghdad civilians were abducted and are being freed, tortured, killed and/or still held hostage.

Let’s get it on, fact-checkers and online news editors and break these headlines more responsibly!


UPDATE: After 2+ hours of making me nervous that I was blowing the story myself, CNN finally changed the story back to 5 hostages, none released, and blamed Iraq for the bad report despite the fact that they were the only government or news outlet continuing to claim that 2 hostages were freed…

This Day in Media

— Jay Rosen introduced and discussed NewAssignment.net — “an experiment in open-source journalism” — at Harvard’s Berkman Center (video)

— Al Jazeera International finally launches its English-language broadcast. It’s U.S. distribution is quite thin, having been turned down by Comcast, however, it will be available online at VDC.com and english.aljazeera.net.

— Len Downie is the latest to announce layoffs and consolidation as the state of the job market circa my impending graduation from J-school begins to eerily mirror the quasi- market circa my high school graduation in 1993 (and how things changed with 2 years of Net proliferation). An ONLINE Journalism major, I’m not nearly as concerned as my colleagues.

Free Press and the Center on Media & Democracy released their second report on the use of Fake News and Video News Reports in mainstream media.

— Amanda Congdon of Rocketboom fame is goin’ Disney — she’s signed on to blog at ABCNews. Just the other day she announced a contract with HBO (check int’v w/ BizWeek). Hopefully her lovely vidblogging wit will transfer to print better than Mark Halperin‘s (of the Note) personality lame-ified ABC News Now appearances.

Tonight at a presentation of a soon-to-be-release study of Media Usage Gap by the Annenberg School for Communication and Ketchum, it was revealed that “it’s all about the influencers,” 18-30 year olds digest an incrediubly broad array of media, from social networking sites to print newspapers, etc… and blogs are not as infouential on a broad scale as many think, according to the study, of course. More on all that later.

Lots of deeper blogging to come as the past few days have included BarCamp LA 2 and encounters with ‘net early adopters/enablers/activists John Gilmore and John Perry Barlow… .

Google Video Provocation

From the How-to-Inspire-Nuclear-Apocalypse-from-your-Laptop Dept:

via OgleEarth:

Somebody’s posted a video to Google Video that claims the Iranian city of Tabriz is actually in southern Azerbaijan. It’s a breezy but calculated insult, much like the doings of the Frenchman on the rampart in the Monty Python movie The Holy Grail.

But horrors, Iran’s government seems to have fallen hook, line and sinker for the video, and are now urging Iranians to vent their wrath on Google, reports the Guardian’s Tehran correspondent Robert Tait:

The text of a tourist film on the site has drawn accusations that the US-owned search engine is deliberately trying to undermine Iran’s territorial integrity by fomenting separatist sentiment in the mainly Turkish-speaking province.

(Why they don’t link to the video in the story is beyond me.)

Many seem not to be aware that Google Video hosts user-contributed content, so believe this must be a deliberate ploy by Google (including, incredibly, The Guardian’s Tait!). Others apparently think that it is Google’s job to censor all content anyone finds objectionable. Either way, this fracas will require that Google explain once again the workings of the internet to witless people in power, but at the same time it presents an opportunity for education on the principle of freedom of speech. The worst possible outcome? Google takes down the video.

(Data point: at 8:22 UTC, the video was downloaded 11,431 times after two days.)

LINK

Let’s Go Own the Times

The headline sounds facetious, but the past two times it has been brought up it makes quite a bit of sense.

Harry Chandler writes in the Sunday L.A. Times:

If 20% of Times readers invest $1,000, it could work. I’ll write the first check for the Los Angeles Times Community Owners LLC.

Chandler is the son of Otis — the man who MADE the Times. The Chandler Family Trust owns about 15% of Tribune Company — the largest single stake.

Calvin Naito opined in August, “If you, my fellow 10 million residents of Los Angeles County, each chip in $300, we can cough up the $3 billion needed to buy and collectively own the most powerful local institution — the Los Angeles Times.”

Steve Lopez has been begging the likes of Eli Broad to up and buy the paper for months. (Oddly, this column can no longer be found in the Times online despite being found in two alternate versions — “Free the Press From Corporate Profiteers” and “Finding a Benefactor Could Be Tall Order” in Lexis).

In Saturday’s paper, Tim Rutten made turning the Times back around sound like an impossible task: “the only way to reinvigorate local coverage and to establish the kind of strong online presence that will guarantee the paper’s future is to stop doing something we now do for readers or to do it less thoroughly and less well, hoping that those readers just won’t mind.”

But Chandler, whose two cents really count for something, has a more hopeful outlook — and I think I like it: “Publish only columnists with original, even provocative, perspectives. Pursue more investigative pieces and assign fewer reporters to a story that 75% of readers already saw on ESPN or CNN or Yahoo.”

Hope for a happy ending soon. Expect to hear about it first at LAObserved.