Where does the press corps get its facts!

MONDAY, DECEMBER 17, 2012

Does Scott Pelley actually know that: We’ve been struck by the maudlin nature of much of the coverage of the most recent mass shooting.

To our ear, Alexandra Petri’s column was wondrously faux at the Post. But so were large amounts of the coverage, as journalists took turns assuring the nation that they’ve never been so upset.

This morning, on Way Too Early, even Mike Barnicle played that card. For ourselves, we didn’t especially believe him. That said, if he wasn’t upset before this, he too must be mentally ill.

The journalists want you to know how upset they are. But then, there’s the same old relationship they maintain with the world of facts.

Last night, on 60 Minutes, Scott Pelley started by debunking a string of false facts. This would have been a constructive act, except for where he went next:
PELLEY (12/16/12): First reports of this tragedy have turned out to be inaccurate. We were told that the gunman's mother was a teacher at the school, that he was allowed in because he was recognized, and that he targeted his mother's classroom with two handguns. Well tonight, we know that all of that is wrong.
Wait a minute! We were told that the gunman’s mother was a teacher at the school?

Who’s that “we,” kemosabe?

In fact, the public was told that Nancy Lanza was a teacher at the school. The public was told that by Scott Pelley, among many others, on Friday's CBS Evening News.

Why did Pelley report that false fact? Last night, he forgot to say.

Aside from a bit of role reversal, Pelley’s listing of the false facts was a constructive act—in principle. That said, we were struck by something he did just a few minutes later.

Pelley spoke to two neighbors of the Lanzas. Instantly, he was advancing another fact—a fact which strikes us as unverified.

Questions: Did Adam Lanza have Asperger's syndrome? Does Pelley know if he did? We’ll guess that Pelley doesn’t know. But after debunking the earlier facts, he was soon broadcasting this:

PELLEY: Family friends told us that he was being home-schooled by his mother, Nancy Lanza. Nancy Lanza told her friends Mark and Louise Tambascio that Adam was brilliant but disabled.

(Begin videotape)
PELLEY: Did Nancy Lanza ever tell you specifically what her son's medical condition was? And she put a name to it?

MARK TAMBASCIO: Asperger's.

PELLEY: That's what she said?

MARK AND LOUISE TAMBASCIO: Yeah. Yes.

PELLEY: That it was Asperger's syndrome?

MARK TAMBASCIO: Absolutely. There's no question.

PELLEY: And for her it was a full time job taking care of him?

MARK TAMBASCIO: Absolutely. Oh my goodness, yes.
(End videotape)
“Absolutely. There's no question,” Mark Tambascio said. Of course, the fact that Lanza’s mother may have made that statement doesn’t mean that the statement is accurate.

But so what? Pelley simply plowed ahead, seeming to assume the accuracy of the diagnosis. There was no warning that we should be careful about this claim in the wake of those other false facts:
PELLEY (continuing directly): Asperger syndrome is a disorder within the spectrum of autism. It's characterized by social impairment, communication difficulty and repetitive patterns of behavior. An Asperger's support group told us today that patients are more prone to be victims of violence than the perpetrators of violence. And we don't know whether Asperger's played any role in the shootings, but friends told us that the condition did dominate the Lanza's lives.

(Begin videotape)
LOUISE TAMBASCIO: I mean, I know he was on medication and everything, but she home-schooled him at home because he couldn't deal with the school classes sometimes. So she just home-schooled Adam at home. And that, that was her life.

PELLEY: She wasn't working. She devoted her time to Adam?

LOUISE TAMBASCIO: Yeah, she didn't have to work, so that's what she did. She home-schooled him and you know and she did a lot of charitable work and everything.
(End videotape)

PELLEY: Nancy Lanza appeared well off, living with her son in an upscale home...
Pelley said he didn’t know if the condition played any role in the shootings. But he seemed to assume the diagnosis was accurate, based on that one couple’s statement.

Did Adam Lanza have Asperger’s syndrome? We’ll guess that Pelley doesn’t know. But so what? Just like that, he was advancing this new alleged fact!

For us, there has been a third part to the basic set of reactions, although we’ll save that one for another day. And this latest mass shooting raises many larger questions—for instance, about the kinds of people who only get upset, or pretend to get upset, when it’s children who get shot down.

That said, we were struck by the way Pelley worked his way through that chain of false facts.

Do we ever get anything right? Allegedly, Nancy Lanza said something to one of her neighbors.

Apparently on that basis alone, it quickly became our latest new fact. When Pelley’s old facts turned out to be wrong, he simply moved on to another!

3 comments:

  1. What about that "fact" that was being pimped all over the place, but seems now to have been disappeared: that Adam Lanza had an altercation with four SHES staff on Thursday and killed three of them on Friday.

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. The media don't understand mental illness. Homeless people are maligned. Then there's Jessy Jackson having to step down. Bush being called "retarded" for his dyslexia. And then finally there's interventions. The truth hits too close to home, so its spiced up with what people want to believe. Yum, a tasty treat.

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