3 Media Missteps in Navy Yard Shootings Reporting

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Chuck Todd tweeted about NBC's wrongly reporting the name of the shooter. (Credit: Twitter, screenshot)

The Sept. 16 Navy Yard shooting in Washington D.C., produced a flurry of media missteps, misidentifications, and photojournalism errors.

CBS News, NBC News and the Associated Press erred or had measurable issues with their reporting on the shootings. iMediaEthics counted three major missteps.


Number 1: Wrong Person Identified by NBC, CBS as Shooter

CBS and NBC wrongly identified the shooter, according to Mediaite, which captured an errant tweet from NBC’s Chuck Todd. Todd was re-tweeting NBC’s Senior Executive Producer for NBC News Investigative Unit Richard Esposito saying the shooter was “a Rollie Chance.”

CBS’s John Miller also identified Chance, but later back-tracked, Politico reported.

In further tweets, NBC’s Todd explained the “bad initial reporting” resulted from information “from conflicting law enforcement sources.”  He tweeted:



Later, Todd tweeted other excuses for why Chance was mis-identified as the shooter.




“I know folks are relishing an opportunity to get out their hatred for media,” Todd wrote. “I’m just trying to provide context for what we got wrong.”

In sharp ethical contrast, CNN held off on reporting the name of the suspect until the FBI confirmed “on the record,”the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple reported. Wemple suggested CBS News and NBC News should have “followed that prescription earlier in the day.” Wemple also reminded readers about similar errors in reporting on the Newtown, Connecticut school shootings.

Numerous news outlets including NBC News, the Associated Press and CNN wrongly reported that Ryan Lanza was the shooter in Newtown, Connecticut, as iMediaEthics wrote back in December. However, the police later identified Lanza’s brother, Adam Lanza, as behind the shooting.

The Boston Marathon bombing reportage was also fraught with errors as iMediaEthics’ coverage documented.

Huffington Post’s Jack Mirkinson and Poynter’s Craig Silverman both argued bad breaking news reporting has become all too common.

Mirkinson’s headline aptly stated:”Navy Shooting Coverage Mistakes Feel Depressingly Familiar.”

“The script followed by the media during the coverage of the shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington is an all-too-familiar one,” Mirkinson wrote.

Silverman pointed to possible trouble spots in reporting: “Maybe it’s a misidentification of a suspect, or a victim, or a location. Maybe people got the fundamental facts wrong. Who’s dead? How many shooters are there?”


Number 2: Associated Press Retracts 2 Pictures

Meanwhile, the Associated Press retracted two photos after about six hours, according to Poynter.  In a “photo elimination” notice, the AP said


One of the photos, re-published by Poynter, appears to show one person lying on the group with a few people leaning over.  In the background is a CVS and what appears to be two people in uniform. The picture seems to have been taken from a car window.

The AP retracted this photo. (Credit: AP via Poynter, screenshot detail)


iMediaEthics has written to the AP asking where it got the photos and what the AP has determined concerning what the photos actually show. We’ll update with any response.


Number 3: How many shooters were there?

Media outlets also produced “contradictory stories” about the number of shooters involved, The Huffington Post’s Jack Mirkinson noted, pointing to the Washington Post’s coverage.

In a Sept. 16 10:45 AM tweet, the Post wrote



In another tweet, the Post said “as many as 3 shooters,” attributing that information to the police.





The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi already wrote about numerous errors in media reporting on the shootings.

“So much was misreported in the first few hours after the shooting rampage at Washington’s Navy Yard,” Farhi commented, adding that “initial reports said that as many as three gunmen were involved.” However, he left out that his own newspaper had also reported the three gunman information.

iMediaEthics has written to the Post asking if it has published any corrections in print or online related to its reporting on the Navy Yard shootings. We’ll update with any response.


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3 Media Missteps in Navy Yard Shootings Reporting

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