As the FBI and federal authorities continue to comb through videos and witness statements to find those responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings, CNN is in hot water after a senior correspondent prematurely described a suspect as "dark-skinned" even when there was no actual suspect.
“I want to be very careful about this, because people get very sensitive when you say these things," CNN's John King said on the air. "I was told by one of these sources who is a law enforcement official that this is a dark-skinned male.”
To be clear, there have been many conflicting reports about the description of the suspect from media outlets over the past two days. Yesterday, the media rushed to announce that police had arrested someone in the case. Moments later they all had to retract their statements because they were all wrong. No suspect has been arrested in the terror act that killed three people and injured almost 200.
The National Association of Black Journalists called his reporting “offensive” and wrote that media outlets need to be responsible when reporting on race.
There have been various reports identifying a potential suspect as "a dark-skinned individual." This terminology is not only offensive, but also offers an incomplete picture of relevant facts about the potential person of interest's identity. When conveying information for the public good, and which can help law enforcement with the help of a vigilant public to keep the country safe, it's important that such facts be put into proper context.
NABJ in no way encourages censorship but does encourage news organizations to be responsible when reporting about race, to report on race only when relevant and a vital part of a story. Ultimately this helps to avoid mischaracterizations which might encourage potential bias or discrimination against a person or a group of people based on race or ethnicity.
The FBI also cautioned the media for some of its reporting inaccuracies.
"Since these stories often have unintended consequences, we ask the media, particularly at this early stage of the investigation, to exercise caution and attempt to verify information through appropriate official channels before reporting,” the federal agency said.
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