There were many erroneous media reports in the first few hours after the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard massacre, says the Washington Post. “Initial reports said that as many as three gunmen were involved. Then two. Then one. Then back to three. That four people were dead. But maybe six were.” NBC and CBS identified a suspect by name. Except he wasn't a suspect. Others reported that police were responding to a second shooting at Bolling Air Force Base. There was no shooting there.
The erroneous reports weren't concocted. Most came directly from police sources, and quickly bubbled up through the modern media ecosystem, hopping from law enforcement scanners to Twitter to traditional media reports within minutes. Police scanners aren't very reliable. “People on Twitter take it for granted that [scanner chatter] is real and confirmed,” said Mark Brady, public information officer for the Prince George's County Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. It's not, he says. Reporting on such data without official confirmation, “is asking for trouble.” Dave Statter, a veteran TV news reporter who maintains Statter911.com, a Web site that reports on police and emergency services, says, “Anyone can listen to a scanner and tweet. I'm afraid that in our haste to compete with social media to cover breaking news, we've forgotten that what makes us special is our skill in confirming information, not just reporting it.”