Sunday, June 22, 2008

Media and the five floating feet

Google News provides an incredible opportunity to follow a specific news story in minute detail. It also allows the opportunity to do a forensic investigation of dubious reporting. Let’s start with a proposition from the Vancouver Sun:

“The RCMP has refused to release photos of the shoes, or information about their make or size, which could help people identify missing loved ones.”

A few news reports have stressed that the police are keeping a tight hold on information, and some have even gone on to quote police sources for information. I know, from personal experience, the pressure an editor can exert on a reporter to dramatize this kind of story.

I also know how embarrassed the reporter can feel when the facts are skewed under their byline. After all, it is the journalist in the field building rapport with news sources, including police, who pay the price for false attribution of quotes.

In a recent post - Five feet of pure mystery in Vancouver – I detailed a number of ‘facts’ so far revealed in the case of the disarticulate feet. Since that post I’ve become aware that any actual police revelations have come from local cops not really involved in the investigation. Often those quotes appear to be a little tongue in cheek and certainly not official.

The other source of ‘police’ revelations can be found in other reports to have come from witnesses, and we know witnesses are not always very accurate. But then exactly the same quotes will turn up elsewhere attributed to cops.

…but anyone with secrets is under scrutiny. Especially the police. There's a strong suspicion on blogs that the police know more than they're saying. Times Colonist

The bottom line is that none of the facts I detailed have been officially verified, they are in essence little more than speculation. The trouble with the cops withholding information is that the media will quickly fill the gaps.


abi said...

You're right, Cart. A macabre story like this has legs, even if the feet don't. The media will find ways to keep it in the public eye, because the public wants it there.

D.K. Raed said...

I lost my train of thought upon reading Abi. When I regain my legs, I will return.

Cart said...

Abi, I think your post on media priorities was apropos.

DK, Sunday is a good time to be legless.