Premature Speculation

When tragedy strikes, we cling to the news like a lifeline. It’s riveting, sickening, and addicting. And unfortunately, in the world of the 24 hour news hole, it’s increasingly speculative.

In the wake of yesterday’s I35W horrors, National Public Radio quoted an expert located far from the scene saying the incident may have been due to the swirling waters of the Mississippi eroding the footings. Meanwhile, CNN reported that the footings are all on land, and the resulting long length of unsupported steel decking may be the reason for the collapse.

Then CNN carried the interview of a Minnesota Senator saying the bridge was recently given a “clean bill of health.” Shortly thereafter, the Star Tribune reported that the inspection record concluded the bridge was “structurally deficient.”

All the while, WCCO-TV’s veteran anchor gave detailed explanations of the physics of the collapse, with seemingly no evidence or expertise whatsoever underpinning the claims.

Yesterday was a reminder of so many things — the cruelty of fate, the faith we put in infrastructure, the folly of taking loved ones for granted.

And it was also a reminder of the importance of steady journalism during difficult times. It was a reminder that it’s okay to wait for the facts and say “we don’t know yet” in the wake of disasters. Really. As much as people are pushing you to guess, don’t. Getting scooped is bad, but misleading is worse.

I realize folks are just trying to do their job under very difficult circumstances. But to victims’ loved ones desperately searching for answers, the speculation that is intended to be a salve for their wounds may feel more like salt.


10 thoughts on “Premature Speculation

  1. Becky says:

    Agree. It’d be really nice if the reporters–especially now-national reporters who are from the Twin Cities–would get the location of the bridge correct. Most reports I’ve heard state the collapsed section is “on the bridge connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul.”

    This isn’t 1980 when we have to rely on Rand McNally Atlases. Try logging on the internet and looking at a map.

  2. Kelly Groehler says:

    This morning, MSNBC chidingly questioned the Mpls. police spokeswoman for the change in the number of reported deaths. ?!?!?!

    And don’t even get me started on last night’s little physics lesson from Professor Doolittle.

    Thoughts and prayers to those affected and their families.

  3. Our local media, immediately following the catastrophe and for several hours thereafter, appeared confused. Peg this with emergency response personnel attempting to do their job and victims walking up from the disaster in what? a state of confusion, and a camera in everyone’s face and what do you obtain? A lot of speculation, disbelief, frustration, and anger. That resonated well throughout last night.

  4. ss says:

    These kinds of disasters bring out the best and the worst in news crews working to fill time and feed an audience hungry for information. The small amount of strong, noble reporting and commentary is ultimately lost, however, in the hours and hours of mindless conjecture, ugly stereotyping, and dangerous rumor-mongering.

  5. Dave Jackson says:

    Watching and listening to the national media who’ve descended like vultures into the Twin Cities makes me wonder if they know anything about Minnesota besides what they saw in “Fargo.”

    To wit, I was driving home last night listening to NPR, and the national reporter (Jason Beaubien) who had been sent to Minneapolis said the bridge was a “major connector between Minneapolis and St. Paul.”

    Riiiiiight. I wish I could have been there to tell him, “Yep, just keep going north and you’ll be in St. Paul. Don’t worry if you see signs for Canada. You’re almost there.”

    That wasn’t inaccuracy in a rush to be first. This was 24 hours after the event.


    This wasn’t a

  6. I find myself a little embarrassed to say this, but I, an old print reporter, have yet to open the Star and Trib or NY Times. I’ve gotten all my info from TV. It’s so immediate, and this is such a visual story, and the shock and horror can be seen on the faces so clearly. And the people’s own words about what they went through come through so powerfully with no editing.

    Yes, there’s a lot of inaccuracy, and a lot of stupid things have been said, and the local anchors have gone too far into emoting rather than letting the story convey itself, but my God that’s a lot of air time to fill.

    The most haunting images, to me, came from a home video shot from an apartment moments after the collapse that showed people walking, stunned, on the bridge, away from their cars, trying to find the world they’d known.

  7. I agree with you on this one. I similarly complained on my Web site about how CNN jumped to claim three dead in the tragedy without attributing the “fact” to an authority.
    Getting scooped is bad news from a mass media perspective, but giving misleading or incorrect information to beat the competition is just plain unethical and stupid.
    Like it has been said, sometimes journalists feel like they really need to earn their stripes with such a tragedy by feeding readers, listeners, viewers with constant information — and whether it is true or not doesn’t matter.
    Instead, they sometimes just need to sit back and let the story tell itself from its witnesses and people involved.

  8. micky2 says:

    I am not a heartless person. I am 50 years old, 250 lbs. , I have been thru things that would horrify the average person, but my eyes well up when I see things like this, I can relate to the pain.
    But what pisses me off is that the media completely abandons anything else that is going on in this world for almost a week after this tragedy.
    It got to a point where I was screaming at the T.V., I guess because I wanted some other news I was a monster.
    After a few days they had nothing new to add, and if they did it was just speculation and a bunch of armchair engineers or whoopie cushions with theories as to what went wrong.
    They had turned a real tragedy into bordeline entertainment and sensationalism.
    I also placed a wager on another website that within 24 hours somebody would come out and make it political. Actually , it only took 6 hours

  9. micky2 says:

    In addition to my previous post I forgot to mention that I spent 3 years in L.A. as an Iron Worker.
    This requires two years in school and two years in the field as an apprentice before you can work as a journeyman.
    So I feel confident in saying that 9 out 10 people o the air didnt have a clue what they were talking about.
    It could have been improper splicing on the rebar, or a gauge that was too thin. The stress cables could of been loose or improperly anchored. { these are cables running through the concrete} Moisture could of gotten through the concrete to the iron and rusted it. It could of been cheap steel or a bad concrete mix. Has anyone heard those guess’s yet ?
    Probably not , because most of these people on screen are just giving us filler untill an actual fact comes up.
    Its disgusting, move on to another story and come back when you have something new and real.

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