17 September 2013

A few bits of media incompetence in the Navy Yard shooting

Let me be clear that I'm not talking about regrettable mistakes, like misidentifying the shooter (even though that's a pretty bad mistake in itself) or claiming that an AR-15 was used (when it appears that no AR-15 was involved). In the rush to get news out faster than everyone else, it happens, unfortunately. Rather, I'm talking about factual errors by news anchors and the so-called experts:
  • Last night, Greta Van Susteren suggested that contractors give clearances to their own employees. What is wrong with these darned contractors! Uh, wrong. Contractors do not grant clearances to their own employees. A company sponsors their employee; someone else (sometimes the government, and sometimes a government contractor for another company) does an investigation. Ultimately, the government itself makes the final determination and grants (or denies) the clearance. You cannot really fault HP or The Experts for giving the gunman his clearance; or Booz Allen for Snowden's clearance. To do so shows that you do not understand how clearances work.
  •  The news reported that the gunman had a clearance and a valid CAC card, which was sufficient to allow him lawful access to the Navy Yard. In the next breath, "experts" are wondering how he got on the base. Was security lax? Why wasn't he stopped? Inexplicably, Van Susteren also questioned how easily it might be to jump a turnstile or overpower someone. Wait, what? HE HAD A VALID ID. THAT'S HOW HE GOT ON BASE. Perhaps this is not obvious, but most facilities require you to show and ID, period. Some places might do random vehicle checks, but it's not as if every vehicle is being subjected to a virtual strip-search.
  • Having been awarded the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal does not make you a "decorated" service member, as if those are somehow individual awards. Both of those are essentially automatic awards as a result of serving (in the last paragraph of this article, USA Today is more measured, calling them "routine" medals).
To repeat: these are factual errors that degrade the quality of news reporting. They are not attributable to understandable errors in the rush to be first. We should expect more.
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