Tag Archives: CNN

Fake tweets during Sandy continue to reverberate

During Big Storm Sandy (they can’t seem to agree on a name), I blogged on the fake tweets, and how they were picked up by major news outlets. Can’t resist this post-script, wherein CNN, the very network that spread the fake tweets far and wide, is castigating (appropriately) the now called-out tweeter. It’s ironic that the CNN story points out that the Twitter community questioned the tweets, but fails to point out that CNN did not question the tweets before sending them out.

Sandy will prove a watershed event for the use of social media. There were plenty of good examples and bad examples, but there can be no disputing the essential role that digital communications and social networking play in disasters of all kinds and sizes. One sad reality is that there are bad, disgusting people out there, who for whatever reason decide to increase the misery of the world. Mr. Tripathi turns out to be one of those. But a deeper lesson is once again the self-correcting nature of Internet communications. If enough people are participating, the truth will come out, sooner than later. It’s in the nature of the instant interactivity. That instant interactivity does not apply to broadcast media where people are sitting in their homes, watching it, without really having the opportunity to say, wait, that’s not right. That’s why the burden is more on the broadcasters to get it right. And once again they failed.

What is saddest and most frustrating to me, is how they continually refuse to own up to their failings. The report the apology of the Mr. Tripathi for causing so much additional anguish. Where is CNN’s apology for doing the same?



Category 5 coverage for a Category 1 storm–crying wolf is dangerous

The media coverage of Irene is a classic example of crying wolf. For those not familiar with the Aesop fable, a shepherd boy out in the field with the sheep cried “wolf!” to the villagers because he thought it was fun to see them come running to protect the flock. But he discovered that after a few times of false alarms they ignored the warning. So when the wolf did come, it feasted on the sheep because of the shepherd boy’s stupidity.

Crying wolf is dangerous. But it is almost inevitable when the media has demonstrated that there is no higher requirement than getting ratings. Over ten years ago a reporter from the largest regional TV station in our area told me that it was an embarrassment to him as a reporter to see how storms were covered. They’d send the reporter out to the windiest spot they could find, like a bridge with flags flapping in the background, they’d put a bright yellow rain coat on the reporter, have him bend against the wind and talk about the big storm. He told me there were ratings meters in the station manager’s office and they could see the ratings jump with the public fears about the big storm.

As this article from the Philadelphia Inquirer points out, Irene was a deadly storm with 18 deaths and that the media plays a vital role in the warning the public to take the dangers of a major storm very seriously. But it also points out that “some cable anchors were still reporting that Irene could strike New Jersey and New York as a major hurricane long after his team determined that it clearly was weakening.”

That’s not just mistaken or poor reporting. That’s intentionally lying, that is crying wolf. The author of the article, Will Bunch, also very succinctly nailed the reasons behind this kind of media coverage: Ratings, journalist careers, and political opportunism. (Anderson Cooper, it is pointed out, was offered his primetime anchor spot after his spirited coverage during Katrina.)

What bothers me is the same forces are at work in coverage of crises and human-caused events such as oil spills. That trifold motivation–ratings, careers and political grandstanding–play into overheated media coverage of events, particularly when human error or negligence plays a role vs. acts of God or nature such as Irene. Of course it is in the media’s interest to create the impression that every inch of beach is covered in oil, that complicated series of decisions were caused by greed or incompetence, that the fancy software in your car can cause it to¬† behave like the computer in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” It’s in the politician’s interest to feed on the fear and outrage created by this kind of coverage to be the white knight and propose legislative or regulatory solutions to the problem.

Sometimes, I sort of feel like I am crying wolf in continually harping about the problems with news coverage today. Many seem to think that it is quite normal, to be expected and really not so bad. There are outstanding examples of tremendous journalism. But, is there any doubt that the overwhelming inclination of major media outlets in today’s hyper-competitive environment is to put ratings above responsibility? Survival is at stake. The problem is that as the coverage of Irene makes clear, lives are also at stake. The article above points out, what happens when a Category 5 storm hits and people don’t respond because every Category 1 storm before that has had Category 5 coverage? They won’t evacuation, they won’t prepare, they won’t respond. We know that perfectly good reputations and careers have been destroyed by this kind of ratings-first coverage. We may soon find that more than careers have been lost.

CNN follows its irresponsible pattern–with Japan earthquake

I feel like I have been picking on CNN lately but they continue to provide such obvious examples of what is truly irresponsible about today’s media. While avoiding much of the wild pundit entertainment of FOX and MSNBC, they instead try to preserve the pose of objective news while vigorously trying to get eyes on their screens. Yesterday’s post highlighted the fact that this kind of coverage isn’t concerned about reality–it’s concerned about the script.

The script calls for someone to be bad, be evil, wear the black hat. Today on CNN, they have found their black hat–the Japanese nuclear industry. Which according to the CNN report is too cozy with the government and has a history of cover-up. Accusing a party involved in a disaster or crisis event of “cover-up” is completely predictable. I challenge you to find a bad news story in the news that doesn’t have an element of accusation about cover-up. So, here it is: CNN’s “expose” of the Japanese nuclear industry’s cover up.

Here is what fries me about this. What evidence is provided? Two “experts” with very official sounding titles. The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. And Citizens Nuclear Information Center. To the reporter’s credit he did let us know that these two official sounding “experts” were both anti-nuclear activists. Now, you would think a story as important as this, with as much at stake in the world given the very frightening nature of what is going on, would require authorities beyond two avowed nuclear opponents.

But this is exactly what is wrong with news. The concern is not about what is fair, honest and truthful. The concern is about stimulating fear, concern, even outrage. Because that is what motivates people to turn their eyes. Yes, I saw the story about “Japan’s past nuclear power coverups” on the CNN site and clicked on the video. And I watched the ad. It worked (even if my interest in the story was a little different.

There will be many who will take full advantage of the worldwide fears today about nuclear risks because of the tragedy in Japan. We can expect that of organizations whose agenda is to limit or end use of nuclear power. We do not and should not expect that exploitation from our major news organizations.

Talk to the media, or not?–O'Donnell battles national media

Christine O’Donnell, the Tea Party candidate for VP Biden’s Delaware senate seat, has been the latest national media sensation, or victim, depending on your point of view. Ironically, on a national “news” show, Hannity’s America, she announced she would no longer give the national media any time.

I got some enjoyment watching Anderson Cooper and Gary Tuchman huff and puff about this–with Tuchman saying that this was like Cuba or Iran, or some other oppressive regime that was trying to control the press. Couldn’t really believe he was saying that. She is not the government, she’s a candidate. It is still her option whether or not to talk to the press. But clearly any candidate saying they will not deal with the national media is like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

My question is this: at what point does a company under the kind of infotainment attack we have seen repeated so often in the last while just decide they will not talk to the press? That sounds like a really dumb question to most PR folks and crisis managers who continue to think that reputation management is about media relations. Increasingly it is not.

Here are a few reasons why it is not:

– Some use social media instead of mainstream media for announcements–evidence: Amazon’s announcement about acquisition of Zappos.

– with 300 million citizen journalists running around with all the electronic news gathering equipment they need in their pockets, plus the ability to almost instantly create a “channel” that can rival a major network, who is the media anyway?

– isn’t your focus really those people whose opinion about you matters the most for your future? If so, your interest in the media is only insofar as it is impacts or influences those people. And if you can go direct to them and tell them your story straight, why the heck would you trust that important job to someone whose interest is not your reputation but only in building an audience even if it means using your reputation as a tool?

– reputation management is about taking the right actions, doing the right things, aligning your behavior with the values and expectations of those people who matter the most. Communication is the vehicle that both helps build organizational understanding of those expectations and values and the means by which the right actions are conveyed. What does the media have to do with this all important process? In many, if not most cases, they are a hindrance to it. Recognize it, plan for it, and take action to deal with it.

The huffing and puffing of Cooper and Tuchman notwithstanding, O’Donnell has to ask the question of whether dealing with the national media will help her get elected or not. Personally, I think her loud pronouncement was stupid. It would have been smarter to go about her business of meeting with and interacting with the voters and if that left her little time to respond to the media swirl, that is understandable. No point in waving red flags.

Why media is so distrusted–and yet so believed

There have been well over a quarter of a million stories in the media (mainstream and new) about the Gulf spill. The vast majority of these have provided evidence for the very serious problems I have been complaining about for the past ten years.

I want to pick on just one story and see how it is covered as an example–not a particularly egregious example, but just one of thousands of similar examples every day!

(Again, full disclosure: BP, US Coast Guard, MMS and other agencies involved in this spill are clients through the company I founded, PIER System. PIER is the web management system used for the deepwaterhorizonresponse.com website. Perhaps this involvement affects my judgment about these matters–but look at the story themselves and make up your own mind.)

The story is this: Congressman Markey revealed that a previously unknown BP document revealed that the spill might release 100,000 barrels (4.2 million gallons) vs. the am0unt now estimated (60,000 barrels) and the original estimate of 1000 and later 5000 barrels. CNN last night on Don Lemon’s show told the story this way: BP knew that it was spilling 100,000 according to this document but instead lied and way under-estimated it. After two months of discrediting by the press, the president, the administration and every other politician who managed to get some air time, this new “news” was not going to surprise anyone. It was entirely believable–but was it true?

If you look a little closer at the news stories, things are not quite as they were presented by CNN. The CNN website report is far more careful than Lemon’s brief “headline news” reporting. This report shows that the referenced document was talking about a worst case scenario that might happen if the blowout preventer and the wellhead were removed. In other words, if all the equipment, pipes, and stuff down there were off and the well was left to spew without restriction, the maximum flow COULD BE 100,000 barrels.

The Reuters report on the same issue shows a different and important nuance: when the report was issued. CNN web report says this: A BP estimate made after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon noted that as much as 100,000 barrels per day could leak into the ocean… However, the Reuters report says the document is undated. I looked at the document, and I encourage you to do the same (find the link on the Reuters story).

Having some familiarity with the oil industry over the past ten years, there is little doubt in my mind that this is part of the planning for worst case scenarios for any problem with the well, and that it was prepared WELL BEFORE this event happened. Even if it was prepared after the event as CNN reported (without citing any evidence and in contradiction to the Reuters story), it still describes a scenario that currently does not apply to the event.

Now, let’s take a look at what one of our esteemed elected officials says about this, Congressman Markey. Please note that he was given the incredibly powerful bully pulpit of NBC’s Meet the Press to make these statements based on the “evidence” he uncovered:

“It is clear that, from the beginning, BP has not been straightforward with the government or the American people about the true size of this spill. Now the families living and working in the Gulf are suffering from their incompetence,” he added.

“Right from the beginning, BP was either lying or grossly incompetent,” Markey told NBC’s “Meet the Press” program. “First they said it was only 1,000 barrels, then they said it was 5,000 barrels.”

This is an extreme characterization based, in my opinion, on two big lies: 1) Any estimates about the spill volume came from Unified Command, not BP. The insistence by the media that it was BP providing the spill volumes shows a complete ignorance of the Unified Command structure. This structure, required by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, was implemented in the hours after the event. Any information released after Unified Command was implemented was approved by Unified Command which consisted of all agencies responding including Coast Guard, NOAA, EPA, state agencies, etc. While BP may have provided the technical information at that time, it was Unified Command that was responsible for accepting that information and providing it as the best estimate. It is important to remember that initially the platform was still there, and initially the riser or pipe leading from the blowout preventer was kinked. The wellhead was not bare, the blowout preventer was there, the equipment restricting the flow was there. The initial estimate was based on the best information available at the time.

The second lie is that by digging up technical documents that describe conditions that do not apply, that were most likely provided well in advance, and that instead show that BP was realistically assessing conditions were worst case scenario might apply, and to use that to say they are lying is extremely dishonest. It is Congressman Markey, clearly one of about 500 or so national legislators right now trying to make as much political hay as they can out of this disaster, who is lying, not BP and, more importantly, not Unified Command who remains responsible for estimating spill volumes.

(Later add: it’s interesting the way the LA Times dealt with this story–there is just a hint that maybe it was Markey who was incompetent and out of line here, and note the headline about politicians making waves.)

I described in my book, Now Is Too Late, now nearly 10 years old, how enterprising politicians, looking to leverage off public fear and outrage work in concert with the press. The press is fighting for audience. CNN leads its newscast last night with another story of how BP is evil incarnate. And it is “proven” by this Congressman who wants to show his constituents how tough he is on this horrible company.

Does this kind of thing tick me off? Sure, and not just because my clients are being harmed by it. It should tick off every American who is interested in the truth and what is fair and right. As I mentioned, this isn’t an isolated example–this is what is happening every day. BP and to some degree MMS and other federal agencies, including the president, are victims of it today. I am as sickened by how Fox News is trying to pin this event on the president as I am by the kind of coverage and political attacks that I described above. But this is our system, folks. We have it because apparently we want it. They deliver the news we want because the ratings tell them all they need to know.

I’ve made numerous presentations to other oil companies in the last few weeks. I point out to them that they, like BP, start out a horrible event like this in a deep deep hole. They do not have the trust of the public. In fact, I point out that there is only one industry that has less public trust. Ironically, it is the media business. If Congress were considered an industry, I’m guessing they would be even lower than that.

A 9/11 Legacy–Lessons from the Coast Guard Potomac exercise for drill planners

Today marks the somber anniversary of eight years ago. And many were greeted this morning with breaking news about shots fired near President Obama’s motorcade as it crossed the Potomac. Flights at nearby Reagan National were put on ground halt status, FBI and Secret Service put on high alert.

There, were of course, no shots fired and the scare was caused by a routine Coast Guard exercise that happened to coincide with the president’s travel plans. The scare was in fact caused by CNN scanning a Coast Guard radio channel used for training purposes where they heard reports of ten shots fired. Now the Coast Guard is on the defensive trying to explain why an exercise was conducted there at that time was actually routine, why it was not communicated to other authorities, and how the training exercise got picked up by the news media and misinterpreted. They are saying the only thing they really can say at this point which is that the incident is being reviewed.

We’re all a little bit jumpy, aren’t we? CNN certain seems to me to be jumpy and unwilling apparently to accept any culpability in this scare. What happened to verifying before you report? It is no longer part of the reporting game and can’t be when you compete against everybody with a smart phone, cell camera and Twitter account. They will almost certainly continue to take the position that if they were fooled by overhearing training radio talk it was someone else’s fault for allowing them to be fooled. I may not be happy with their lack of acceptance of their responsibility in it, but that is the reality that emergency managers and particularly drill planners have to face today.

So the message is, in this jumpy environment, be careful with your drills and exercises. Be aware of how creating a realistic scenario can be interpreted. The military needs to be careful when the exercise their forces in mock attacks that they don’t scare the bejesus out of the population. I was in a cross-border drill one day that involved a scenario of an anthrax release at the international border crossing. All drill participants were in a hotel near the border without any use of internet or phones or any contact with the outside world. But a couple of drill participants went to the restroom during a break and were discussing the scenario. They were overheard by someone in the restroom who was not part of the drill and soon there was minor panic in the hotel. The lesson: even while you are in the restroom preface everything with: THIS IS A DRILL.

It’s tough to simulate distribution of public and media information while keeping the information tight–but it is essential. Again, clearly label everything and all info, including that intended to stay behind closed doors as a drill. There are some good and effective ways of simulating mass distributions including through Twitter and other social media. The key is to plan it well to be as realistic in interaction with the outside world as you can without making the big mistake of getting caught on CNN and making national news.

The most important lesson is to understand that in today’s hyper news environment the rule is report now, blame others later. So, be careful out there.


Added note: Just viewed the interview with Vice Adm Currier on CNN. I am even more angry with CNN for the outrageous false reporting, their culpability in this mess and their stunning unwilingness to accept any responsibility. Fortunately, at least some others are seeing CNN’s role in this–at least to some degree.

Should we expect "twitter-speed" from mainstream media?

This is the intriguing question of this post from Bill Salvin of Signal Bridge Communications. It is clear that the twitterers are shocked that it takes as long as 2 hours for the likes of CNN to get the story like the Continental crash on the air. But as Salvin points out, they need to be concerned about accuracy and that means they have to do a little more than just blast out there what the latest tweet is.

Yet, there are some nagging questions in my mind about this. It has become clear to me that speed has become more important than accuracy for most mainstream media–the 2000 elections still come to mind. And as the speed of information distribution through social media heats up, this need for speed is even more critical. As I have stated in numerous presentations the past few years, the competition within media is intense and the competition is based primarily on immediacy. Accuracy, balance, comprehensiveness, depth, context–all these are important and of varying importance depending on the outlet, but in this hyperspeed information world, you lose if you are not fast enough. That’s why I kind of doubt that the point about accuracy will continue to hold up. CNN needs to be concerned about that 2 hour delay because the audience they crave–those twitterers (hey better than saying twits) simply cannot and will not understand that bit about waiting to make sure the facts are right.

It’s one of the reasons why CNN like all other MSM have resorted to i-reporter or some other form of instant citizen journalism to support their traditional coverage. It is fast, it accommodates the mass of those involved in sharing instant information, and it also it seems somewhat absolves them of the heavy responsibility of accuracy and objectivity. Note the debacle of an i-reporter on CNN falsely reporting Steve Job’s death with the resulting short term stock crash. I don’t recall seeing any apologies from CNN on this false report. These incidences it seem to me don’t result in a call for more accuracy as much as they continue to press even more demands for speed.

How instant news can impact share price–Apple and the false heart attack report

I just blogged again about citizen journalism and how the mainstream media is adopting citizen journalists as part of their news crews. They are not careful to check the facts–and that is a huge risk for any organization who might find itself in the news.

Today, Apple stock took a 10 point hit this morning based on a false “i-report” on CNN. A citizen “journalist” reported that Steve Jobs, Apple CEO, had a heart attack. It was false and the stock soon recovered.

But, CEOs all around the world ought to be having semi-heart attacks about this danger. How fast will organization respond to a false i-report? Do you think you can count on the CNNs to get the story straight before it appears on their website? Not a chance. The only protection is putting in place the policies, people, plan and platform to respond.

Are bloggers journalists–yes, no, well it depends…

Interesting discussion by Campbell Brown and another journalist on CNN the other night. They played the audio recorded by a blogger of former president Clinton lashing out against a “slimy” reporter who did an unfavorable report on the former president in Vanity Fair. The journalists were complaining about this because Clinton has refused to allow any journalist access to him recently on the campaign trail, including refusing to allow any journalists on the rope line. The blogger was on the rope line with the hidden tape recorder. Clinton assumed that she was a fan looking for a handshake, especially when she asked what he thought of the “hatchet job” in Vanity Fair. That’s when Clinton launched his tirade.

The CNN journalists were unhappy that they couldn’t get that juicy audio–because as journalists they were not allowed near. The questioned the ethics of the blogger in recording that audio and pretending to be a common citizen. Now wait just a minute here. Ethics? Would they have hidden a tape recorder and considered it ethical? I think so. Their only real complaint was that they as journalists were being treated differently than a blogger–who, by implication, they think should be treated as a journalist. Of course, most of the time those in mainstream media wouldn’t even come close to considering bloggers to be journalists. So, which way is it? Are bloggers journalists or not?

The other thing I found interesting is their comments on how this represents the new state of news coverage. They sort of sighed in a resigned way, that this is what things have come to and the likes of President Clinton will just have to get used to it. Indeed, and so will the “journalists.” The age of transparency is here. 300 million citizen journalists. If they don’t have tape recorders they certainly have cell phones with cameras. The term “off the record” is about to disappear from the lexicon. How can there be such a thing in an always visible, always recordable world?