After news of a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School broke early Dec. 14, media outlets rushed to be the first with new details. In the process, a number of inaccurate news reports emerged, including some that misidentified the gunman.
Like many other news outlets, Business Insider also reported some of this inaccurate information, attributing it to other news sources.
Here are some of the worst errors:
- Sandy Hook’s shooter was possibly a father of a student. Suspected shooter Adam Lanza, 20, didn’t have children.
- There was a second gunman, possibly in military fatigues, who was put in the back of a police car. The second shooter was never identified.
- The shooter’s mother was a teacher at the elementary school. It was widely reported that the shooter had targeted his mother and her class. But Nancy Lanza was found shot dead in her home, and the school’s superintendent said she never worked there.
- The Sandy Hook shooter killed his father, possibly in New Jersey, before driving to the school. Adam Lanza’s father Peter was alive at his Connecticut home 40 miles away from Newtown. It was his mother who was his first victim.
- Adam Lanza’s brother Ryan was the shooter. Many outlets showed pictures of Ryan and said it was “confirmed” he was the shooter, but he took to Facebook and defended himself. Authorities later said that Ryan was working and was not a suspect. Some outlets have speculated that Adam was carrying Ryan’s i.d. during the shooting.
- The school buzzed the shooter into the building. In its Saturday print edition, The New York Times erroneously reported that detail, citing an unnamed law enforcement official. The paper of record retracted the information.
Getting the story right in the midst of a horrific tragedy is difficult, and news outlets were desperate to get the story out to audiences hungry for details.
“In the Twitter age, the pressure is worse than ever to be fast — it’s become more difficult,” NYT standards editor Greg Brock said. “Some of the pressure is coming from readers. If they see a headline on a Web site, they start looking for a complete and fully reported story from us, and they protest if they don’t find it.”
But we shouldn’t accept these kind of errors as the norm, according to columnist Eric Deggans at the Tampa Bay Times.
“Simply accepting that there is no solution for reporting huge chunks of a major story incorrectly in the moment sounds like a forward-looking acceptance of social media’s impact,” Deggans said. “But it’s really embracing a path which could destroy the news industry.”
NowThis News actually created a video of all the mistakes: