SBD/January 23, 2012/Media

CBS Sports Apologizes For Reporting Joe Paterno's Death Prematurely

CBS failed to verify unsubstantiated report of Paterno's death before publishing it
Former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno died yesterday morning, and CBS Sports “apologized for reporting Saturday" that Paterno had died, saying that it "had fallen 'well short' of its own journalistic standards," according to Tim Molloy of THE WRAP. CBSSports.com Managing Editor Mark Swanson Saturday said that the site “had relied on ‘an unsubstantiated report’ and failed to verify it.” After the Paterno family disputed the early report, CBS replaced the story with one "saying it had based its report on the reporting of a Penn State student website, Onward State.” Devon Edwards, managing editor of the student site, “resigned Saturday night, saying he never expected its reporting to be picked up by the national media." The N.Y. Times and CNN were among “the first to get a denial" from the Paterno family. However, by then, several news outlets and reporters, including "The Huffington Post, CNN's Anderson Cooper and Howard Kurtz ... had written about the death, all after the CBS report.” The blame “fell on CBS, which tried to pass it to the small student site,” but it also “lay with those who cited CBS's story without confirming it independently” (THEWRAP.com, 1/21). USA TODAY’s Michael McCarthy reports Edwards “based his tweet on what turned out to be an e-mail hoax.” Poynter Institute’s Craig Silverman said that the story “probably won’t stick to CBSSpports.com for long because it was passing on Onward State’s report.” Silverman: “Had it solely originated with them, it would stick to them” (USA TODAY, 1/23). However, the GLOBE & MAIL’s Bruce Dowbiggin writes how an organization as big as CBS “fails to confirm a death with the family is inexcusable” (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/23). AP Managing Editor for Sports, Entertainment & Multimedia Lou Ferrara said, “The lesson for everyone should be that accuracy still matters” (N.Y. TIMES, 1/23).

KUDOS FOR COVERAGE: In Tampa, Tom Jones writes ESPN's coverage yesterday of Paterno's death “was comprehensive and compelling, informative and engrossing.” "SportsCenter" for several hours “ignored all other stories in sports and concentrated solely on the Paterno story,” but the broadcast “never grew boring or monotonous.” The net “reeled in one guest after another, from former Penn State players to coaches to analysts, all offering unique perspectives on Paterno's life and career.” ESPN “walked the fine line of celebrating Paterno's storied career while not ignoring the controversial final chapter of his life.” They practiced “fair journalism and told the whole story.” Jones also writes Big Ten Network’s coverage Saturday night of Paterno was “unexpectedly impressive.” This was “early in the story when there weren't many details other than Paterno being in 'serious' condition.” Still, the net “shined” (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 1/23). All three network morning shows -- “GMA,” “CBS This Morning” and “Today” -- included reports on Paterno's death within the first 15 minutes of the broadcasts today. ABC’s Dan Harris, CBS’ Armen Keteyian and NBC’s Ron Allen reported live from the Penn State campus, with ESPN’s Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic also appearing live via satellite on “GMA” to discuss Paterno's passing (THE DAILY).
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