News Analysis by Satrohan (Renny) Lall and Shivani Singh
As a critical news consumer, it is important to remember that even major news outlets make mistakes. Case in point: a video from Kentucky misrepresented as one from Syria.
On Oct. 13, ABC News reported a story about Turkey’s attack on Kurds in northern Syria that featured footage that was taken out of context–way out of context. According to Poynter’s article, “Don’t let ABC’s mistake fuel distrust of the media,” by Peter Adams, ABC’s “World News Tonight” mistakenly aired a video of a machine gun exhibition at a Kentucky shooting range during a story about Turkish military forces in Syria. Weekend anchor Tom Llamas said the video appeared “to show Turkey’s military bombing Kurd civilians.”
The following morning, ABC’s “Good Morning America” aired the same video, which later that day was debunked on Twitter by Wojciech Pawelczyk, a conservative political activist. Some posts on Twitter accused ABC News of intentionally using the footage to advance an ideological agenda.
Beckett Adams, a writer for The Washington Examiner, conducted a more in-depth investigation of Pawelczyk’s assertion on Twitter. After a series of accusations about the accuracy of this story, ABC issued a correction, stating on Twitter that the video had been removed and that it “regrets the error.” According to the Poynter article, an ABC source told Snopes “that the footage came from someone who claimed to be in a ‘sensitive position’ on the Turkish-Syrian border.” What is clear is that ABC News did not properly vet the video, most likely because it was breaking news. In the rush to be first with video from the scene of the Turkish attack, ABC failed to perform its most basic journalistic responsibility–verifying information before it goes out on air.
The Takeaway: This is a great example of why news consumers should get their news from multiple outlets and then verify key facts themselves. Before the misrepresented video was exposed, a news consumer could have used lateral reading to determine that something was wrong with that footage. ABC did take steps to rectify its mistake by retracting the video and holding itself accountable for the error. However, the news outlet was not transparent about how this occurred and what it will do to ensure it does not happen again. Although errors like these undermine the news media in general and fuel distrust of news organizations, Adams warns news consumers against “adopting cynical, conspiratorial explanations for these kinds of incidents” because news organizations that acknowledge their mistakes are still the most credible sources of news.