Newtown Shooting Media Frenzy: Viral Fumbles, Morgan Freeman Misquote and Pro-Gun Senators Silent
The Internet helped spread false information during the weekend, leading one news site to issue an apology: "Police and editors everywhere -- including us -- will be thinking hard about how to do better in the future."
Following the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Friday, the fast-breaking story led to confusion on the air and online. First, multiple networks originally identified Ryan Lanza, a resident of Hoboken, N.J., as the shooter, with Buzzfeed, Gawker and Mediaite posting excerpts from his Facebook page. Instead, it was his younger brother, Adam Lanza, who police say was shooter. Connections to the school that many hypothesized or erroneously reported were unfounded, and discussion of Lanza's potential autism became speculation and fodder for motives that might or might not exist.
Buzzfeed apologized Saturday for posting the Facebook profile of the elder Lanza brother, writing: "We’re a young news organization, hardly in a position to lecture local law enforcement or the great American outlets with decades or more of experience in hard news. Police and editors everywhere -- including us -- will be thinking hard about how to do better in the future."
Several other stories went viral without vetting. An essay written by Liza Long, titled "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother," detailed her difficulties in dealing with a teenage son that she describes as a potential mass murderer. After it was posted by Gawker, Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post and many other sites, Sarah Kendzior wrote her own blog post, highlighting past entries by Long that included harsh criticism of her child and admissions of an abusive home.
The entry, which said Long's "allegedly insane and violent son is portrayed as a normal boy who incites her wrath by being messy, buying too many Apple products and supporting Obama," also went viral, leading the two women to issue a joint statement that said: "Our nation has suffered enough in the aftermath of Newtown. We are not interested in being part of a ‘mommy war.' We are interested in opening a serious conversation on what can be done for families in need. Let’s work together and make our country better."
Also during the weekend, a statement about violence in society that was falsely attributed to Morgan Freeman also went viral. Users of the social site Reddit purposely pegged the statement to the actor, fooling the many who shared it on Facebook and Twitter.
The major media outlets took their own share of criticism. While some newscasters tried to interview children who witnessed the tragic events, reporters including Anderson Cooper refused to do so, creating a divide in approach among the on-the-ground media. There also were clashes with several gun rights supporters, including one by CNN's Piers Morgan on Saturday and another featuring the network's Soledad O'Brien on Monday morning.
For the most part, however, the gun lobby has stayed quiet; it has been noted that the NRA has not tweeted since the event took place, and a producer for Meet the Press stated that none of the 32 pro-gun U.S. senators agreed to come on the NBC Sunday discussion show.
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