The perils of late-breaking news
Gloria Trotter, Countywide & Sun
What an amazing week it has been, as we all heard the news of Osama Bin Laden's death and the details of the operation that led to it.
As a journalist, it's fascinating to watch how the story's been covered in this day of electronic media. Like most of you, I heard the news on television — and stayed glued to it well past my bedtime.
Monday's newspaper, in my case The Oklahoman, delivered more details, despite the short of amount of time they had to assemble it. And of course more pieces of the story have fallen into place in the days since.
But there are dangers in trying to report a story like that — a story of a secret mission and high security. The TV networks were the first casualties. The initial reports on Fox News said that the operation had happened six days prior to Sunday's announcement. That, of course, was not true.
I'm sure they thought it was true when they got the information from what they considered a reliable source. But at that point, how many people really knew what had happened? Not many, I expect.
Newspapers fall victim to that from time to time as well; I have myself. But for the most part, they have more time to triple-check sources and tie up the loose ends. Broadcast is immediate, and the temptation to get it out there first can prove dangerous.
And then there's Facebook and the like. Naturally, Facebook was frantic with posts about the big story. For a while, the tone was celebratory and patriotic. Then it started to deteriorate into political rhetoric in too many cases. I made one my rare posts late Sunday (or was it early Monday?) to say that no matter who you had voted for in the Presidential race, or who you might vote for in the next one, it was a great day for the nation.
And, I said, the President gave an excellent speech.
That's all that should have mattered. I'm not the President's biggest fan, but that does not dull the shine of a successful mission carried out under his direction. He struck just the right tone in that speech. It's too bad everyone couldn't have done the same — and I'm talking the left side AND the right side.
How about another "casualty" of all this? My son posted a link to an article by Megan McArdle, the business and economics editor for The Atlantic. She wrote about seeing "a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. fly across my Twitter feed: 'I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.'
I saw that posted on Facebook, as I'm sure many thousands of people did, and didn't think much about it. But McArdle discovered, with some digging, that it was inaccurate.
"Had I seen the quote on Facebook, rather than Twitter, I might have guessed at the truth," she wrote. "On the other hand, had I seen it on Facebook, I might not have realized it was fake, because it was appended to a long string of genuine speeches from MLK Jr. Here's the quote as most people on Facebook saw it:
"'I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.'
"Everything except the first sentence is found in King's book, Strength to Love, and seems to have been said originally in a 1957 sermon he gave on loving your enemies," said McArdle. "Unlike the first quotation, it does sound like King, and it was easy to assume that the whole thing came from him.
"So how did they get mixed together?"
It seems that Jessica Dovey, a Facebook user, "posted a very timely and moving thought on her Facebook status, and then followed it up with the Martin Luther King Jr. quote." It read:
I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.
"Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that." MLK Jr.
Apparently, someone afterward, reposting the message, removed the quotation marks. It was reposted and tweeted to more than a million people in the incorrect form. The Twitter version, with its 140-character limit, was stripped down even more. And when McArdle blogged about the situation, it resulted in a new firestorm so complex I don't have room to tell you about it. Suffice it to say that a lot of people certainly got completely off the subject that started the whole thing and fell to fighting.
Good grief. It makes you wonder — when will today's communication become too much communication?
Wed, July 20, 2011