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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Boston Bombings Rock Media
Aired April 21, 2013 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: When those bombs exploded in Boston, journalists faced an enormous challenge, finding out what happened at the Boston marathon, who might be behind the attack, covering the dead and wounded and the victim's families.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN: An explosion at the Boston marathon, I am told.
SHEPARD SMITH, FOX NEWS: And we've just gotten word of not one but two explosions near the finish line of the Boston marathon.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: And of all places, of all days, this was Patriots' Day in Boston.
SCOTT PELLEY, CBS NEWS: Witnesses say it sounded like thunder. Two bombs went off as dozens of runners were crossing the finish line at the Boston marathon today.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: But there was unfounded speculation and there were mistakes. The biggest blunder reports that Boston police had arrested a suspect in the case which turned out to be flat wrong.
Plus, a report that the younger brother had been killed instead of captured after that massive manhunt.
And days of media chatter about who did it, why they did it that sometimes went too far.
We'll turn our critical lens on the coverage of this awful attack from several angles, including a talk with a reporter who was running in the marathon.
I'm Howard Kurtz and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
KURTZ: Monday's terror attack in Boston put tremendous pressure on the media to cover a fast-moving and heart-rending situation. For all the good reporting on the ground, there was also significant misreporting starting with what some sources were describing as another bombing. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
NEIL CAVUTO, FOX NEWS: A federal source said that there's been an explosion at the JFK Library in Dorchester. We don't know much more than that.
WILLIAMS: We have a bit of a disagreement. The source for the word of an explosion at the JFK library, which is rather far from Boylston, downtown Boston, is the commissioner himself.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN: We've just learned of yet a third bombing. This one at Boston's JFK Library.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: That incident turned out to be an unrelated fire.
"The New York Post" said 12 people had died, wrong, and that police had a Saudi suspect in custody, wrong again. And there was speculation about who might be behind the attack based on zero evidence.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
BOB ORR, CBS NEWS: The suspects range from international terrorists to lone wolf inspired by international terrorists, to perhaps even someone acting on their own on behalf of a domestic cause.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: Normally, domestic terrorists, people tend to be on the far right, although that's not a good category. Just extremist, let's call them that.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: On Wednesday, CNN followed by FOX News, "The A.P." and the "Boston Globe" reported there had been an arrest in the case, but that story soon fell apart.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS: Investigators have identified a suspect. That's the word our local affiliate in Boston is using. A suspect believed to be responsible for the Boston marathon bombing and that an arrest is imminent.
JOHN KIONG, CNN: One of our sources from our national security contributor, Fran Townsend, one source says, a Boston law enforcement source, who tells me that an arrest has been made in the investigation.
PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: What we have been told definitively is no arrest has been made. We've heard frankly conflicting reports from, broadly, senior federal officials about whether they have, in fact, even identified anybody yet. KELLY: FOX News alert, it's now being told to FOX News reporter that indeed an arrest has been made. That indeed an arrest has been made. We now have different law enforcement sources telling us different things about whether an arrest has been made and other news organizations are receiving similarly conflicting information.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN: We're getting some conflicting reports about an arrest.
TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I have actually three separate sources, but two that are very highly placed and close to the investigation, that have just told me that there's been no arrest and in fact, a suspect has not been identified by name yet.
KING: At this point, it appears that people who have been reliable sources to us in the past 48 hours were giving us inaccurate information or getting ahead of themselves on something. But that's we're trying to piece together.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: And on Friday, as the older suspect was killed in a police shootout and his younger brother captured in Watertown, there were more misfires and mistakes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
WILLIAMS: What we've been told is that the word is shots fired. That was the first information that came back here. The second was body found in a boat. In any event, I think the telling word here is body -- body found in a boat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Obviously, there was no body. The suspect was wounded, but alive.
So, how should we grade the media's performance during this very difficult week?
Joining us: Erik Wemple, who blogs about the media for "The Washington Post". Joe Concha, reporter for Mediate. And Lauren Ashburn, editor in chief of Daily-Download.com, where I am also a contributor.
Joe Concha, we're covering no other subject today because of the importance of this story. How big a blunder was it for CNN -- let's start with CNN -- to report there had been an arrest when, in fact, there was no arrest?
JOE CONCHA, MEDIATE: Well, it was a blunder that happened on Wednesday, as we know, and other outlets also had the same report.
KURTZ: As we saw.
CONCHA: "The Associated Press", "The Boston Globe", remember that was just TV that we were jus showing there. Those outlets as well --
KURTZ: Along with FOX.
CONCHA: It was a very big blunder, all right? But let's analyze why, Howie. The reason why is there's so much competition out there right now. Not just other cable news networks. But Twitter.
Twitter is that blitzing linebacker that's throwing a ball before he wants to. In other words, it's putting so much pressure on the media.
KURTZ: We'll come back to that role in --
CONCHA: It's a big blunder.
KURTZ: Lauren Ashburn, John King and Fran Townsend, who is a national security contributor to CNN, said they had several sources they had been an arrest. And, of course, that turned out to be wrong.
LAUREN ASHBURN, DAILY-DOWNLOAD.COM : Look, nobody right now, I'm sure, feels worse than John King and Fran Townsend. It's not as if they wanted this to happen. Yes, it was a blunder. Yes, it was bad. However, these are sources that they believe to be impeccable or otherwise they wouldn't have reported it.
KURTZ: But relying on law enforcement sources, in my experience, in a lot of cases I could cite, going back to Richard Jewell, the 1996 Olympics bombing, who was unfairly fingered in the Olympic bombing. He sued NBC and other organizations and got lucrative settlements.
Law enforcement sources are sometimes wrong. They want to make it appear that they are on top of case or put pressure on witnesses, so that is whisky business.
ASHBURN: Which is why networks and papers have very strong anonymous sourcing policies. And that has to go through editors. It has to go through producers. It has to go almost to the top of the command. That's why we don't do it very often.
ERIK WEMPLE, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think we're reaching after Newtown and after this, I think we maybe reaching a point where news organizations need to say on the major points of a criminal investigation as when a suspect has been identified or arrested, the name of a suspect, they need to wait for absolutely official confirmation -- either a press conference or a statement.
ASHBURN: But that's tough.
WEMPLE: If you go through these sources, especially in these biog stories, because you have law enforcement on the local level, on the state level and on the federal level. It's all a mismatch.
ASHBURN: Erik, it's tough. It's really tough. Take for example, when the bombing happened, 2:50 in the afternoon, the very first tweet went up on to Twitter which said, "Holy blank, explosion." At 3:40 the Boston police confirmed on Twitter that there was an explosion.
So if you're waiting --
WEMPLE: Obviously, you don't need confirmation that an explosion took place. I mean, I think we can very well see that.
KURTZ: Let me come back to what happened on Wednesday. This was on my view a significant mistake that unfortunately marred what has been a solid week of coverage by CNN -- to examine CNN for a moment. You had a lot of boots on the ground and elsewhere.
But -- and the ratings have been huge so people are still tuning in -- but let's also point out that unlike in the Richard Jewell case and lot of other cases I can mention. That report didn't slander anyone. Nobody was named. It was just a story about an arrest that did not happen.
My question is what if John King's sources had been right? And what if he had gotten it first and then 10, 20 minutes, other organizations had gotten it, and the Boston police announced there was an arrest?
ASHBURN: He'd be a hero.
KURTZ: He'd be a hero.
WEMPLE: I do not think he would be a hero. I do not think he would be a hero. I think we would have forgotten about it.
KURTZ: Is that a good enough scoop to take the risk of the downside that you might be wrong?
WEMPLE: And the big problem we're not mentioning here is the dark skin moment, where he felt compelled to bring out this detail that the suspect was dark-skinned. And he had said that he had withheld several other details, but he decided to spill that one on us. I didn't see what possible use that was.
KURTZ: All right. King says that he was simply repeating what law enforcement sources told him.
But now, let's look at why there's so much attention on CNN. Look, it was very prominent. It went on for about 45 minutes to an hour.
But as we mentioned, "Associated Press", "Boston Globe", local Boston TV station, also got it wrong, yet CNN seems to have gotten most attention.
Joe Concha, why is that?
CONCHA: Well, because CNN, Jeff Zucker said this earlier in the week, it's a spare tire --
KURTZ: Chief executive of CNN.
CONCHA: Yes, exactly. It's the spare tire in the car. So when a big news story breaks, you know, let's go to CNN because they are the best at breaking news. They always have been.
KURTZ: CNN promotes itself as the reporting channel.
CONCHA: Exactly. Ever since the Gulf War, this is where you turn when big news breaks.
ASHBURN: Right. And you're not reading a newspaper because it isn't out yet. You're going online. You're looking at Twitter. You're looking on your feeds.
It isn't as if, back to your earlier point, that during the Oklahoma City bombing when we said it was terrorists.
KURTZ: There was speculation that it might have been Middle East terrorists.
KURTZ: And, of course, it turns out Timothy McVeigh --
ASHBURN: Instead of Timothy McVeigh, right?
And so, I think that in this instance, that it was something that happened that was then corrected as soon as the new information.
KURTZ: It was corrected. And unlike in some other cases we're going to talk about, CNN owned up to the mistake and took responsibility. I think that was a good thing.
NBC's Pete Williams, who's generally has been praised for an experienced beat reporter. But on Friday night, as we saw earlier, he relying on sources that there was a body on the boat and we've asked --
CONCHA: He said a body, though, Howard. He said a body on the boat.
KURTZ: OK, body on the boat does not suggest somebody is alive. We've asked NBC to clarify, NBC is not giving us any comment.
CONCHA: Maybe because the guy who looked in boat saw somebody cringed. He didn't know whether he was alive or dead.
WEMPLE: I think when you say body, that's a corpse. And the other thing, he also reported a fire on the boat. I don't know if that fire ever happened.
KURTZ: I don't think it did, but there are conflicting reports.
ASHBURN: He relied on his sources. Pete Williams relied on sources. John King relied on sources. "A.P.", everybody went through the appropriate channels. And the lesson here is that in live breaking news, people are going to get it wrong.
KURTZ: What is the rush to put this information that is not been confirmed on the air?
ASHBURN: It's not just competitiveness. I say that that is wrong.
As a reporter and a journalist, you want to deliver accurate information. That's your job. And you're not trying to always be first. Yes, it has some perks that go along with it.
KURTZ: Everybody likes to be first. I'm as competitive as anyone, but nobody likes to be first and then be wrong.
"New York Post" has not apologized. I mentioned at the outset that 12 people are dead, Saudi suspect. And then there was this cover "bag men." This is from FBI surveillance videos or videos obtained by the FBI. Two guys who we now know are perfectly innocent bystanders. Just post it and say these are the subjects. It just kind of strongly implied of it.
What do you make of that?
CONCHA: You hear Col Allen, who is the editor of "New York Post." Well, we never said they were suspects.
CONCHA: The implication there is so clear. Bag men, two pictures, but we never said they were suspects, but the implication is so bare.
ASHBURN: So much that one of these guys went to the police to try to clear his name. He was afraid to walk out his front door. This mistake is intolerable.
WEMPLE: It's almost as if we need to put this in a basket from the other things we're talking about. This I believe is willful. I believe this is willful, intentional attempt to stir whatever they want to stir. I don't know what it is, but it stinks.
CONCHA: There needs to be ramifications, Howie, right? If somebody has to call Jackie (INAUDIBLE) or some sort of great lawyer that's out there and say, you know what, you're getting sued for this. You can't put my face on the back of a newspaper that's one of the top 10 newspapers in the country and say it's implicated --
ASHBURN: And he's worried about getting into college.
KURTZ: This is the high student -- ASHBURN: This is going to affect his future, and it will --
KURTZ: Because he might have resembled somebody.
WEMPLE: "New York Post" made a great case this week for government licensing of journalism.
KURTZ: Well, I'm not going to go there.
WEMPLE: I'm not proposing anything --
KURTZ: Rupert Murdoch, the owner of "The New York Post" has not apologized. In fact, he said on Twitter and I'll read, "All 'New York Post' picks were those distributed by FBI and instantly withdrawn when FBI changed directions." Except, you can't withdraw something that's already in print and on the newsstands.
WEMPLE: That's unbelievable.
KURTZ: Also that's not an apology.
CONCHA: And the FBI didn't call them bag me, I believe.
ASHBURN: If you screw up, say you're sorry. It's as simple as that. It's a lesson in life and it's a lesson in journalism.
WEMPLE: This is a screw up. This is willful attempt to sell newspapers on something flimsy and they knew it. So I think this is not a screw up.
I think that's where we go wrong. Do you not agree with that?
KURTZ: I think it was deliberate. It was premeditated. It was not something based on a source that turned out to be wrong.
It was like, hey, this is a great picture. It will sell copies at the newsstand. Maybe these guys -- as long as we don't say it's these guys, we're legally OK. Imagine one of those kids is your son and suddenly all these people that are online as well.
Let me turn to New York's other tabloid, it kind of went to another direction. This was a gory scene obviously, with three people killed and, what, 160 or more wounded. You see the cover of the "Daily News", "Marathon Massacre."
The part that we have circled there in yellow, which we briefly saw, was where "The Daily News" altered the photo to make it less gory. This is somebody's leg was missing. They kind of colored it in.
"The Daily News" was proud of that, said, we're showing sensitivity. But readers weren't told that the photograph was changed. CONCHA: You can't change a photograph, Photoshop, whether it's sensitive or not. Then just don't show the photograph. There's a thousand other angles that we could have shown on there. Take another one and move on.
KURTZ: We have a consensus on that point.
WEMPLE: "The Daily News" didn't get hammered enough because the other tabloids was doing things far more egregious.
KURTZ: All right. We're going to take a break. When we come back, we'll talk about the orgy of speculation that took place on the airwaves and other aspects of this Boston bombing case and the media coverage.
KURTZ: When it was finally over after that tense day on Friday and the younger Tsarnaev was taken into custody, President Obama went before the cameras and he had something to say about the reporting of the Boston bombings.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In this age of instant reporting, tweets and blogs, there's a temptation to latch on to any bit of information, sometimes to jump to conclusions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: FBI earlier in the week had also complained about the inaccurate reporting. So, this is an instant where the government is criticizing the media.
WEMPLE: It's fun. And they are right. The FBI issued a smashing statement about the thing we were just talking about saying please check official channels. Of course, sometimes the government isn't too cooperative when the media knocks on their door as well. So that's a two-way street.
KURTZ: And after the mistakes earlier in the week that we have talked about in the last segment, I thought I saw a note of caution creeping into these discussions. With pulled some sound from different networks to illustrate what I'm talking about.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of this is conjecture and trying to piece together and try to figure out motivation, frankly, Brian, you know?
ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC: And we should quickly point out, that as we saw with Newtown, people do crazy things. Before we leap to any conclusions of a political motive --
CUOMO: At this point we have no reason to believe whether their religion or origin has anything to do with their intentionality here. It's just details provided by investigators. Keep that in mind.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: Is that the sound of journalists pulling back?
ASHBURN: Not only was it the sound of journalist pulling back, but if you landed on social media during that time, everybody was saying, please, don't report things that aren't true. Twitter grew up during this crisis. And it really showed that people didn't want to get it wrong this time.
KURTZ: We'll talk more about that in the next segment.
I also wanted to say that, you know, nationally, we focused on the things that went wrong. I think during this week, as all these journalists invaded Boston, there was a lot of good reporting. There was a lot of compassionate reporting. There were interviewing with eyewitnesses, interviews with people who were related to those who had been wounded.
And we ought to tip our hat to the fact that this is something that television with its -- leaving side the excesses -- can do very well.
CONCHA: Absolutely. And we saw that I think the peek of that was Diane Sawyer at 8:00 Friday night. FOX was in opinion mode still talking about speculation about the family gets along.
Sawyer is on the phone with the guy who found the body in the boat. The description that was there, the fact that she let that guest go, I see a strap cut. Then I see blood on the ground. Then I open up the tarp and I see a body -- and you felt like, wow, that could be me. You were so scared hearing that story because you're thinking this is a monster that put a bomb next to an 8-year-old kid and he could just detonate at any moment. So, what would I do that in that situation?
That was journalism, that was hard journalism at its finest. The fact that ABC producers were able to get that guy on the phone, that was a shining moment.
KURTZ: And, yet, at the same time, we saw all of these experts rolled out, and I understand the value of having ex-detectives and FBI profilers and, you know, Tom Ridge, former head of Homeland Security. But you're also filling air time.
A lot of them went to speculation mode before we knew the identity of the bombers.
WEMPLE: There was and I think you find among conservatives in the country, a lot of anger that it was discussed earlier in the week, could Patriots Day be symbolic, you know, could this be a right-wing thing? I believe someone from NPR had conjectured to that effect. I did see --
KURTZ: Chris Matthew started to say it's often right wing extremists.
ASHBURN: That we saw on the clip, right?
WEMPLE: And so, I think there's some merit there. Although, if something happens on Patriots' Day, I think you're licensed as a broadcaster to say could this have something to do with Patriots' Day? I think that we're all right with that, I am --
ASHBURN: What really makes me angry about this is that these are analysts and contributors who have been sitting in the corner since the last tragedy, not on TV talking about things.
KURTZ: You see them all the time during the Bush administration.
ASHBURN: Right, and you don't see them anymore. So there's something for them to be able to contribute.
What I like to see them contributing is not conjecture, it's not speculation, but it is. This is what happened behind the scenes during 9/11. I was there. This could be happening.
I like to know that stuff. I like to understand what the FBI and the police are doing.
KURTZ: What about all the pieces that are starting to be written? And they're all over the Sunday papers this morning, the profile of the Tsarnaev brothers.
ASHBURN: So sick of it.
KURTZ: And what is there motivation? How did they turn radical? Did the older brother influence the younger brother? What about that trip to Chechnya?
ASHBURN: Hey, does anybody remember 8-year-old Martin Richard? Who was that?
That was the 8-year-old boy who was blown up. All we're going to do now for the next week is focus on we will know more about these people than we know -- these boys -- than we know about our own relatives. We will be into their mind.
WEMPLE: I think we should.
ASHBURN: I'm not saying a little bit isn't good, but --
WEMPLE: I think a lot.
ASHBURN: You have to remember the victims.
WEMPLE: I think we should remember the victims. But we should know massive amounts about these two men, massive amounts.
KURTZ: And isn't there a danger, Eric, and I had the same feeling after Newtown and I have the same feeling after Columbine that we are kind of glorifying the people who do this. Not glorifying in the sense we're saying goo things about them. But such as an intense focus that it takes the spotlight away from those who were killed and wounded and maimed.
WEMPLE: I don't think that's our consideration. I think we need to know as much about the people who commit acts of terror in this country as we possibly can.
And I don't think there's any -- you know, I don't think we should be worried about where the spotlight falls. We need to know about these people.
ASHBURN: No, I disagree and I said it before. We do need to worry about where the spotlight falls.
The media have an immense power over the minds of the American people. This is what you see day in and day out.
So you're focusing on negative, you're focusing on the bad boys. What about the other people? What about moving forward? What about issues? How can we prevent this? What do we need to do in society?
CONCHA: Howie, one more positive that came out of this was the fact that there's nowhere to hide, that because the media is so prevalent, that Twitter is so prevalent, that people can share information so easily, it's hard to hide because pictures that used to be in a post office or in a newspaper now are everywhere.
KURTZ: You have set me up for the next segment. Right after this, we will talk about the role of Twitter and other social media sites in the Boston bombing.
KURTZ: Twitter not only broke news of Boston bombings, but during the middle of night firefight when most of us were asleep, there was a guy named Andrew Katzenberg (ph) who had an exclusive.
ASHBURN: He said you can call me Kitz. He started live-tweeting and taking pictures of what was happening in that firefight right in his neighborhood, right behind his house. He told us what was happening, who was there, there's a car. He was giving license plate numbers. He had the story.
And this is just a guy who invented an iPhone case, you know, where you can put your credit cards in it.
KURTZ: And on Friday night, you saw a picture online posted by a guy whose screen name is hasinator (ph).
ASHBURN: Hasinator. He said he's a below average-looking guy with a smoking hot wife. And he said -- he showed the picture. He was the first one to get it. I remember, I saw it. An instant after it was tweeted, and I though, hmm, right, wrong, I don't know. Why would a guy with a smoking hot wife have this picture?
And I waited. And half an hour later, CNN had it. KURTZ: So --
CONCHA: If you have a smokin' hot wife, you're probably accustomed to taking pictures --
CONCHA: Let's make that very clear.
KURTZ: So is Twitter and other social media sites, are they putting pressure on the media? Are they adding to what the media are able to report? Because after all, there are only so many journalists in every newsroom.
CONCHA: I brought this up about Twitter being the blitzing linebacker and a quarterback, I've got to get rid of the ball right away.
KURTZ: You brought it up in the context was it putting undue pressure on those of us in the old media business to do things differently. I would say it opens up the dialogue. Of course, there's also this question of is this stuff real. Do people know what they're talking about. It opens up the dialogue to millions of people rather than just a small monopoly in the news business.
CONCHA: I would say there are now six news networks now. There's CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, Fox and Twitter -
CONCHA: And Reddit, yes to a certain extent.
KURTZ: Let's take a moment. Reddit is an information sharing site that's very popular. On Reddit, there was speculation about certain suspects who turn out not to be suspects, some of that bouncing off media reports, some of it not.
WEMPLE: We can wonder whether the "New York Post" would have ever had its terribly irresponsible cover if not for Reddit because, you know, those crowd sourcing attempt to identify --
ASHBURN: There was also a huge backlash on Reddit. I mean, I could see from people who were on Reddit. You know, you go to these stories and you like the stories. They were swearing and saying Reddit screwed up. Reddit, you can't be talking like this. So there were rational people on Reddit, social media trying to calm down the posers.
WEMPLE: Pull down the links to this person. Please pull down all the links. This person is innocent. So it was a very interesting --
KURTZ: That's a very fascinating development because when Twitter, in particular Facebook, Reddit and Instagram first surged in popularity, there was a lot of how can we really believe what average folks are doing, we really have our trust in the mainstream media.
Now it seems like there were these voices and they were not the only voices, of restraint not only restraining other people on social media, but also calling out the mainstream media for things like "The New York Post" cover and other mistakes that we've discussed.
WEMPLE: I wouldn't take with issue with what Joe said, but what I saw when I was looking through my Twitter on the day of the attacks was a tremendous, kind of a mass of people, critical mass of people saying stop, caution, yellow light.
CONCHA: I was one of those guys. I woke up at 2:00 a.m. on Friday morning. Checked the Yankee score. The one status update on Facebook said I think we got these guys. I could go to the TV, but I'm just - let me go on Twitter for a while. But then I went to television. That felt so slow. It was like one anchor with one guest and one picture. On Twitter, you have dozens of perspectives and dozens of voices.
ASHBURN: That's right. And you put it in context. It's the Greek chorus of our day. OK, so this person from this background is saying this. Here comes this picture. So for this generation where we are moving so fast, the McDonald's generation, it becomes a tool for our ADD minds.
KURTZ: But is the Greek chorus, as valuable as it can be, also difficult to trust because it is so many voices and some people -- I like the fact that the mainstream media being critiqued. But a lot of is ideological.
ASHBURN: Do you think, Howie, that everything you read on Twitter is real?
ASHBURN: OK, so I think people come to this sixth network knowing that these aren't journalists. They don't have to champion the First Amendment. They are people, real people on the ground, eyewitness reporters.
CONCHA: Instant gratification. And the other one when you're watching TV at certain moments, it feels like you're waiting for a table at a restaurant. Just give me something. Twitter is always giving you something. Every 30 seconds that night, you had a new report. The most important thing that came out of that was police scanners and links to police scanners. To listen to the police scanners, that was real-time stuff. You did not have to wait for a thing.
ASHBURN: That's where bad information comes. A local news reporter who had a police scanner in her house, you know, it's awful. You cannot report what you hear on police scanners.
KURTZ: Clearly what has happened here is that it's giving us the raw and unfiltered reports. Sometimes right, sometimes wrong, but let's face it, the mainstream media this week sometimes right, sometimes wrong.
Lauren Ashburn, Eric Wemple and Joe Concha, thanks very much for coming by this Sunday morning.
We'll talk more about the Boston bombings in a moment. We'll go to Boston to talk to a commentator and talk about the local and national coverage and how it looks in a moment.
KURTZ: Our critique of coverage of the Boston bombings this week takes us to Boston, Massachusetts. Joining us is Callie Crossley, the host of "Under The Radar" on WGVH. Welcome. What has it been like?
CALLIE CROSSLEY, HOST, "UNDER THE RADAR": How are you?
KURTZ: I am excellent. What has been like to live there and have all these anchors parachute in to do their broadcasts and have national media and to have much of the city locked down while you are trying to work and do your job?
CROSSLEY: Well, I think the lockdown part is what's different. This is a world class city so we have had hordes of media from all around the world for many other events including the Boston marathon. But the lockdown part is very different here and I was very proud of the way local television folks handle a situation that they had never handled before. That's the difference.
KURTZ: Talk a little bit about local TV. For example, during that night when there was the shootout with police that killed the older Tsarnaev brother, local TV made all over that. "The Boston Globe" has been working 24 hours a day. It's web site has got millions of hits. Talk a little bit about the local approach to what is obviously a national and international story.
CROSSLEY: Well, here's what made me so proud. I thought that not only -- this was a moment when local folks proved what community means. They know this community. They knew the streets. They knew where to get information about the people. And all along the way, they were careful to say this is what we know now.
And now we're updating you to this point. It's something we're not quite sure about, they said that as well. No excuses, Howie. They made no excuses. They just went straight for telling people what they did know, what they didn't know. An in an ever evolving fast- moving situation, I thought they were brilliant. Some of them did an excellent job.
KURTZ: This is when journalists earn their combat pay. We talked earlier in the program -- go ahead.
CROSSLEY: What I wanted to add was I was with a group of friends not in business last night. I asked what they thought about the coverage. These are people who keep up with news and information. They said is what they most appreciated was a lack of hyping what was already a heightened situation. They said inform me, don't scare me. That was the highest compliment they could give local reporters here in town and I have to agree.
KURTZ: I often say when there's a big story, there's no need to hype and overdramatize. You can just tell the story. Now earlier we talked about the mistake made by CNN, Fox News, AP and others including "The Boston Globe" in reporting on Wednesday there had been an arrest when in fact there had not been.
CNN correspondent John King in relaying what he was hearing from law enforcement sources said that the person who was being arrested who obviously there was no such person, but that information was a dark-skinned person. That enlisted a lot of comment. What was your take on that?
CROSSLEY: It should have enlisted a lot of comment. Somebody as skilled and knowledgeable as John King not to put that information out if that's the only descriptor you had. That could be a part of a context of a lot of other descriptors if in fact you have that information --
KURTZ: Is that the case even if it was true? In other words, if the story was solid, there was an arrest. There was a dark-skinned person? You're saying it's too broad.
CROSSLEY: I'm sorry, it's too broad. The point of journalism is to be absolutely accurate. In a context, that is just one single fact. That tells me nothing. What does that mean? There are a billion dark-skinned people. And in a city with a fractured racial history that Boston has, you don't need to put that out. That was just -- I thought that was irresponsible and I was disappointed.
KURTZ: John King tweeted about this. He says source of that description was a senior government official and I asked, are you sure, but I'm responsible. Let me close by asking you about the role of the local journalists again.
Because is it different -- you used the word community. Is it different when people are reporting on their friends, neighbor, people ran in the marathon. Is there an extra level of sensitivity of passion of commitment when it's in your city?
CROSSLEY: I don't know if it's a different level of commitment as much as you know the town. You know the streets. I mean, I know where 67 Franklin Street is in Watertown. This is two miles from my house. So all the places people are talking about, you know it and you know what it means for people trying to go door to door, block by block.
You know where these brothers lived. You know that there's a mosque around the corner. As one of my colleagues went in and said have you ever seen these guys before? That's the kind of intimate information that I think puts you ahead, allows you to put the information that's coming in very fast in a context without hyping because you know what's real and what's connected.
KURTZ: Callie Crossley, thanks very much for joining us from Boston. Boston marathon started out, of course, as a sports story. Christine Brennan joins us in a moment.
KURTZ: We have sports reporters in Boston for the marathon. Joining me now to talk about that aspect of the story is Christine Brennan, sports columnist for "USA Today" and a contributor to ABC. So this was one of those instances where sports reporters become breaking news reporters, tough transition sometimes?
CHRISTINE BRENNAN, SPORTS COLUMNIST, "USA TODAY": Yes, although I think sports reporters, Howie, are uniquely ready for that challenge. Think of the deadlines every night is election night for a sports section.
So it doesn't surprise me at all that many of my colleagues and others who I don't know did such a terrific job on the spot. That's what sports journalism is. It's something new every day. This case you don't expect this kind of tragedy, but when it happens, you're ready to do it.
KURTZ: So certainly the adrenaline and the filing quickly and all of that kicks in. But I'm sure nobody obviously was expecting to be talking to wounded bystanders and eyewitnesses in that kind of situation. But it's not like this hasn't happened before, I mean, famously the 1972 Olympics.
BRENNAN: The '72 Olympics, 11 Israeli athletes were just killed by terrorists and that was a story developing on TV. I remember I was going to start school the next day watching it at home. I was not covering the 1972 Olympics. I was going into ninth grade the next day.
But I remember that. That to me was riveting because that was before CNN and ESPN to see that kind of play out on your TV set from across the world. Then the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, I was in my hotel room, which right next to the Olympic Park, which, of course, was right next to CNN.
I heard the explosion at my window and looked out thinking it might be part of a band's act, but within a moment I saw all the police cars and columns of emergency vehicles. The sound I heard on my TV with the Boston bombings when I could see the videotape on Monday, that sound, Howie, was the exact sound I heard out my window in Atlanta in 1996.
KURTZ: Yes, that constant replaying of the bombing I thought maybe was too much of that. But this is not a one-day story for sports organizations. "Sports Illustrated," for example, has the Boston bombing on the cover. We can put that up there, part of the CNN's parent company. ESPN has been covering the news developments. So this was sort of emerging in the two cultures.
BRENNAN: It is and again, no surprise to me -- "The Boston Globe" photographers who took the pictures, another great picture right inside the SI magazine. You know, these are reporters or photographers who are there to cover the marathon. I'm sure no one thought that they would be doing this. But they were so well trained just because things happen.
Think of a football game and I'm not comparing by any means the Boston marathon tragedy, terrible, with a football. But you are moving around the field, a golf tournament, whatever you're doing. These photographers are so ready with so much equipment that I'm sure when this happens, you just run out and you do this and capture this moment obviously for posterity.
KURTZ: The Boston marathon, like events of its kind, is a wide open situation, 27,000 people from around the country run. Now that we know that this is not immune from terrorism. We have always known it, but we certainly have seen it here and see the shot of the running before the bombing. Will this change the nature of future sporting events?
BRENNAN: Certainly already going back to Munich, the Olympics games have always had the most security, laminated credentials, bar codes since 1984.
KURTZ: Right. But you can roll off in Olympic village. I don't see how you role off New York or Boston.
BRENNAN: It's 26 miles, 385 yards. It's frankly surprising to me that this kind of thing hasn't happened somewhere before. Golf tournaments where you go for miles around a golf course, the fans are right next to the athletes. Football, the arenas and stadiums can be secured in a different way. But we don't want to stop having marathons and they are such a celebration of a city as well as sports.
KURTZ: A celebration of a city and I think everyone celebrating the way that Boston responded to this tragedy. Christine Brennan, thanks very much for stopping by this morning.
Up next, we'll talk to a "Washington Post" reporter who was running in the marathon and found himself covering a major breaking story.
KURTZ: He was running in the Boston marathon on Monday. He joins me now here in Washington. Vernon Loeb, metro editor of the "Washington Post." So the set the scene for us, you would finish your race 30 to 40 minutes and then you heard the explosions?
VERNON LOEB, METRO EDITOR, "WASHINGTON POST": Right, I was maybe a couple of blocks away and was, you know, kind of relaxing. It's sort of a joyous moment, just finished the marathon. You're exhausted, but you're kind of --
KURTZ: Your first thought?
LOEB: Those are bombs. I heard two explosions and I had absolutely no doubt they were bombs and I immediately pulled out my iPhone and sent my editor a note and said two bombs just went off at the finish line of the Boston marathon.
KURTZ: OK, so you -- you were obviously very tired, but knew then had to function as a reporter, which you would not plan on doing that day.
LOEB: Yes, my first thought was I got to get to my car to get my notebooks and luckily I had a couple --
KURTZ: Always have your notebook. It's the first lesson --
LOEB: It's the one thing I didn't have in my race bag. So I went to my car, got a couple of legal pads and I grabbed a bunch of pens and just started, you know, got back out on the street and started talking to people.
KURTZ: Was there kind of a jumble of emotions because you were in that race. You could have been there at the finish line when the bombs went off and at the same you now had to talk to people, some of whom was going through this traumatic event.
LOEB: Yes. Well, you know, I mean, I think as journalist, you immediately kind of shift in to kind of reporter mode. I realized that this was a huge story. It would dominate the news all week and I think the jumble of emotions were more in the people in the crowd who were just utterly confused and dazed by what was taking place.
There were sirens everywhere. The crime scene kept expanding and they kept pushing us back. My car ultimately was within the crime scene. So I was caught off of my car ultimately.
KURTZ: And your iPhone charger.
LOEB: And my iPhone charger, the second most essential weapon as journalists.
KURTZ: But now this kind of story is certainly not outside of the realm of your experience. You have written about national security, once covered the Pentagon, but you certainly didn't plan to do it that day.
LOEB: Yes. I remember explosions from Iraq. These sounded like exactly the same things. They were the same things. In fact, I wrote a piece about a group of military runners and one made the point, this is an IED. This is what soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have been facing since 2002. Civilians and runners faced --
KURTZ: Saw that with the leg injuries. The fact that you were part of the marathon experience and you were in this moment of tragedy, how did inform your coverage? How did that change that you approached your story as opposed if you had flown in a few hours earlier.
LOEB: Yes, well, it made me interested in how marathon runners were processing these events. You know, having run the race, having run the race a bunch of times and identified with the traditional and lore of the Boston marathon. I was really interested in how this was affecting people's marathon experience. It is getting up there, running the race, celebrating afterwards and I was struck by what an international event was.
I interviewed a guy from Germany, Austria, Mexico, I mean, people were there from all over the world. I'm always fascinated what this did to their experience.
KURTZ: With half a minute you have a big piece in the "Washington Post" today. You talk about how runners on some level are nuts and you have to hesitation about doing this again.
LOEB: No, I have to do it again. I think the next year's Boston marathon will be the biggest on one ever. Everybody will want to do it to show we are not stopping.
KURTZ: To make a statement, to prove to yourself that terrorists cannot take the joy out of this annual event?
LOEB: Exactly, to make a statement. To say basically we are running and nobody is taking the Boston marathon away.
KURTZ: Hope it has a better outcome, but you certainly did your job and it's fascinating to read your piece this morning. Vernon Loeb, thanks very much for joining us.
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. If you missed the program, check us out on iTunes on Monday, just go to the iTunes store and search for RELIABLE SOURCES. We are back on the air here next Sunday morning 11:00 a.m. Eastern.
We will try to get to the other stories this past week that we haven't been able to get to in this special edition as we focus on the coverage, good and bad of the Boston bombings. "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.