As the investigation into Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon continued, today was a day with more wildly conflicting news stories. Early this afternoon, there were reports, notably by the Boston Globe, CNN, and the Associated Press, that a suspect had been arrested (or was in custody — I heard both expressions used). At the same time, the TV network news from ABC and NBC was reporting that there had been no arrest. Some of the reports said that the suspect would be taken to the US Federal Court House in Boston, resulting in a large influx of reporters and the curious. This was probably not a big help when, as The Washington Post reported, the courthouse had to be evacuated because of a bomb scare:
Boston’s federal courthouse, where hundreds had gathered in response to false reports of an arrest, was briefly evacuated because of a bomb threat.
It seems that the networks got it right: the FBI issued a press release stating that no arrest had been made. It also made a request to media organizations:
Over the past day and a half, there have been a number of press reports based on information from unofficial sources that has been inaccurate. Since these stories often have unintended consequences, we ask the media, particularly at this early stage of the investigation, to exercise caution and attempt to verify information through appropriate official channels before reporting.
Didn’t they mention anything about this sort of thing in journalism school?
There were other reports that were merely silly. One TV report showed an image of investigators searching the crime scene along Boylston Street in what it described as “white HazMat suits”. The white fabric garments were obviously not HazMat suits; they were very probably coveralls worn by crime scene investigators so that fibers, hair, and so on from the investigators do not contaminate any evidence. Does the mistake matter? Maybe not, but it might spark a rumor that there was some sort of toxic or infectious residue left by the explosions.
Perhaps to compensate for some of its earlier (excessive) enthusiasm, the Associated Press (via Yahoo! News) has a new report on the media frenzy.