For the second time in less than five years, the Fort Hood community is trying to come to grips with a tragic shooting on post.
In the aftermath of Wednesday’s attack that left four people dead — including the gunman, details about the incident and shooter continue to emerge.
Over time, we may get a clearer picture of exactly what happened and why.
But in the first frantic hours after the shooting took place, news organizations across the nation found themselves grasping at straws in an attempt to put the pieces together.
And in some cases, the results were a poor reflection of journalistic ethics and integrity.
A few hours after news of the shooting broke, representatives of several national media companies, as well as a few in-state television stations called the Killeen Daily Herald to inquire about a photo on the newspaper’s website.
The photo was a feature shot taken in 2010 of a Fort Hood soldier working with a fishing lure. The soldier’s name — Spc. Ivan Lopez — matched the gunman’s reported identity, although Fort Hood officials had not officially released the name.
The Herald’s editors already had done a search for a record of the gunman’s name and came across the same archived photo. However, the consensus was that the name was too common, the photo was too old, and there was no way to positively match the name and image. Consequently, it was determined the Herald would not rerun the photo.
Surprisingly — and disappointingly — representatives from several major news agencies still sought permission to run the photo, even though its newsworthiness was questionable at best. Nevertheless, the Herald declined all requests to share the photo with other media.
The following morning, Fort Hood officials informed the Herald that several media entities published the 2010 photo. Further, the post confirmed the man in the photo was not the soldier involved in Wednesday’s attack — and that he was angry about the photo’s use.
The fact that a number of news organizations had so little journalistic integrity as to swipe the image from the Herald’s website without permission is more than a little troubling.
The actions of these media organizations are both unethical and potentially libelous. But beyond that, the use of a 4-year-old photo based only on the similarity of a name is simply bad journalism.
When reporting the facts of a developing story, “close enough” should never be an acceptable standard. In this case, “close enough” not only provided no additional news value, but it also ended up causing needless pain and anguish to an innocent man and his family.
Lopez, who served eight years in the military and now lives in Phoenix, has every right to be upset by the photo’s reproduction, as do his family and friends. On Friday, he told the Herald he can’t understand why reporters didn’t take the time to check out his Facebook page before acting to link his photo to the shooting.
In their rush to get information on the air or on the Web, news organizations frequently missed the mark.
Early in the coverage, Rachel Maddow of MSNBC declared that Fort Hood was “in Waco.” A little later, a CNN correspondent incorrectly stated Fort Hood soldiers often can carry weapons on post. And Fox’s Sean Hannity said Scott & White Hospital was “at Baylor.”
Sourcing and fact-checking are integral to sound journalism, but more and more, facts are being replaced by conjecture. Media coverage of the missing Malaysian jetliner and the irresponsible dissemination of Lopez’s photo are just two recent examples.
Sadly, the whirlwind of digital media competition has seriously eroded a key tenet of journalism: It’s more important to be correct than to be first.
All media entities need to keep this in mind as coverage of last week’s shooting moves forward.
Through accurate, complete and compassionate reporting, journalists can do their part in helping our community heal.
Contact Dave Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7543