I received an email from the Associated Press at 2:42pm, EST, saying that Representative Gabrielle Giffords was dead. Killed by an unnamed gunman "at a public event" in Arizona earlier today, according to "law enforcement officials" who told NPR and CNN.
How exciting that must have been. Who got the scoop? Who will get credit for reporting the death? Which of you other bastards in the media didn't put your logo on your air?
Forty-six minutes later, another email from the AP came in: Representative Giffords was alive, and in critical condition.
She had been shot in the head, which they didn't know before.
MSNBC.com's front page said five people were dead including a federal judge, but they didn't know who.
You don't know who is dead, but it includes a federal judge?
CNN is live streaming KGUN, a local TV station in Arizona. They didn't know anything about anything and everything was unconfirmed, so don't ask us. But here's a live aireal shot of the area where the shooting occurred.
My mother told me that earlier in the evening that she heard on NPR that law enforcement officials suspected the gunman was part of a conspiracy and they were searching for suspects.
On Twitter a debate began raging. We can call this a terrorist attack or is it just a crazy guy shooting people?
Back on NPR they were now certain he was a lone gunman.
On Twitter, consensus on my Twitter stream had emerged that because people got scared, this was a terrorist attack.
I'm not kidding.
This behavior perfectly illustrates the retched state of the American media, which shows virtually no interest in journalistic ethics anymore. Not even a pretense or apology later.
What the media did today and is still doing right now isn't reporting news, it's spreading rumors. That's all any of them can actually do during a breaking event when solid information only tends to surface during press conferences that don't come until 2am in the morning. Wall-to-wall coverage isn't possible when there's only a few minutes worth of information to report spread across an hour-long block of programming.
There are only two choices: go back to regular news coverage and only break in when new information is available, perhaps every half hour or so, or provide live interviews with "analysts" who don't know anything, local reporters who don't know anything but may have heard something from the national guys, national media stars who don't know anything but may have heard something from the locals, local law enforcement who know a little but can't tell you anything, and even the President of the United States holding a press conference in which he says he really doesn't know anything, but gee this sure does suck.
You can only fill so much airtime with this kind of bullshit.
The full story won't be written about for weeks, or even months. In the back pages of Rolling Stone or Vanity Fair, long after we've all forgotten about the lives irreparably harmed through careless reporting, and those who died in the incident itself.
There's a reason for that. It takes actual effort, time, and respect for the truth to put all the pieces together. It can't be done live on CNN or MSNBC between Hardball and a Glenn Beck repeat, and it shouldn't.
Instead of doing their jobs, media stars fill airtime with guests recounting anecdotes from a book they wrote last year about a very similar event. What an amazing coincidence!
24 hour news networks show live footage from a helicopter a few miles away, but you can't really see anything. Pundits and blowhards exploit the tragedy to flog their pet cause: too many guns, and people taking advantage of their second amendment remedies. President Obama looks troubled in the White House situation room – typically used for national security matters – where wouldn't you know it, there's a photographer handy to get the Shot Of The Day.
That's not journalism, it's entertainment. It's disgusting, embarrassing, and exactly what we all expect from the vaunted American media.