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Archive for March 2007

CNN “I Report” rips away credibility

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CNN didn’t pass up a chance to shamelessly promo its “I Report” program this morning on “CNN Newsroom.”

It chose to provide second-hand information complete with a poor-quality digital photo from a viewer about a train explosion in New York state instead of first-hand information from public safety officials — which it provided just four minutes later. Why? To plug “I Report.”

After anchors Heidi Collins and Tony Harris did their 9 a.m. (EST) lead-ins, this exchange between Collins and “I Reporter” Barbara Williams took place [emphasis, comments added in italics]:

Want to get directly to this story coming to us out of New York, specifically Oneida, New York. Look at this map now.

CNN did not go “directly” to the story. As you’ll see, it provided third-hand reports.

We are telling you about a train explosion. CNN has confirmed 80 cars carrying propane exploded. Right now, we know that 12 are burning.

How did CNN know that? The viewer who took the photo shown was three miles away. What’s the source of that fact?

Look at these pictures that we received from Barbara Williams.

We want to go directly to her and find out what she knows about this.

Why would CNN’s viewers want to know what a witness three miles away knows instead of getting it from first-hand reports from public safety people at the site of the explosions? Answer: Because Williams sent a digital photo through the “I Report” program.

Barbara, can you hear me?


COLLINS: Tell me what you know as far as what happened.

Right around 6:55, 7:00 this morning, there was a huge bang outside of our House, and the whole house shook. And my husband came out of the bathroom because he saw a light from the window, and he opened our blinds and there was just this huge wall of flames shooting up from right near our house. It was about three miles away. And we didn’t know what was happening. We weren’t sure if it was a train or a plane or what was going on.

And from what I’ve heard from the local radio station lately, is that there was 20 to 25 tanker cars filled with propane that derailed, and now they’re worried about the other tanker cars that are attached to it…

CNN reported as “news” what she learned from a local radio station — hence the “third-hand” report.


WILLIAMS: … possibly catching on fire, so they’re trying to get that straightened out.

COLLINS: Yes. Exactly, Barbara. You said you live three miles away. We do know that already authorities have evacuated several residents from…

If CNN knows that authorities have already evacuated people, who are those authorities and why aren’t viewers watching and listening to them instead of viewer Williams? Answer: She sent the photo.

WILLIAMS: Yes. About a mile around it they’ve evacuated and they’ve closed two of the local elementary schools.

COLLINS: Wow. OK. This is according to the fire department there in Oneida, Lieutenant Kevin Salerno.

At last, CNN gives up its source. Why didn’t this material come initially and directly from Salerno? Answer: Williams sent a photo.

And that is the big danger as we talk about this story and what Barbara is mentioning here, how many more of these cars. Apparently there are 80 cars, 12 that we know of that are burning right now. There is a possibility, of course, in a situation where you’re talking about propane, the danger of further explosions.

More of what CNN apparently does best: Conjecture, fear mongering, etc.

What’s the situation now? Are you still in your home, Barbara? Can you look outside?

Duh. But she’s three miles away, listening to the radio. How does this make CNN’s report on a horrific public safety situation credible?

WILLIAMS: I’m still in my home, and I can still see it’s still — there’s still a lot of smoke. There’s a big column of smoke. And the whole horizon behind it is just gray smoke clouds. So, it’s still — there’s still burning going on over there.


COLLINS: All right. Well, we are going to continue to watch this situation and make sure that we keep everyone on top of it.

Once again, information coming out of Oneida, New York, which is a central New York community. About 7:00 this morning, a huge explosion, 80 cars. Twelve of them burning, most of them filled with propane, so we continue to watch and make sure that none of them go up in flames after what we already know so far this morning.

We’ll stay on top of it for you.

Four minutes later, still showing Williams’ photo on the screen, CNN provided an audio feed from Salerno. Placed over Williams’ photo was the “I Report” logo.

It appears that CNN spoke to Salerno, gathered the relevant facts, but delayed reporting them — and their source — until Williams’ breathless report and photo had been sufficiently milked.

This isn’t the kind of journalism I teach in my courses. It isn’t the kind of journalism CNN ought to practice.

But hey, ratings rule, right?


Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

March 12, 2007 at 5:02 pm

Posted in Uncategorized