Sunday, January 09, 2011

A headline's echo of 1963

For years grizzled old journalists bored cub reporters with the tale of the wire correspondent who became nearly incoherent one November Friday afternoon in Dallas. Yesterday, the French paper Le Monde offered an echo of what happens when the media megaphone tries to react to unexpected tragedy.

You could find it in the feed*  hours later.

As news flashed around the world of the shooting of Rep Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz), some editor in Paris stuck with the Saturday morning shift assumed the worst and dashed off this headline for the Web:

Une parlementaire américaine tuée dans une fusillade

Translation — An American legislator killed amid gunfire.

Indeed, the first graf of the initial story said: Une parlementaire américaine et six autres personnes ont été tuées samedi dans l'Arizona par un tireur qui a ouvert le feu au cours d'un meeting. (U.S. congresswoman and six others were killed Saturday in Arizona by a gunman who opened fire during a rally.)

It's an easy mistake to make. Indeed, that was initial assumption. Who survives a gunshot to the head?

Anyone who has ever been stuck in the middle of breaking news knows the initial cacophony right after a startling, shocking and unexpected event. I witnessed the oh-so-macho George W. Bush White House employees skitter out in what was an obvious panic attack in the first hour of the Sept. 11, 2001, events. Even chicken hawk Georgie Porgie himself scrambled to a bunker in Nebraska.

Of course, some people simply act in disregard of their own well-being. Such as the now-dubbed "hero intern" Daniel Hernandez whose quick moves essentially saved Gifford's life.

In journalism, such adrenalin-pumped responses are not uncommon among war correspondents. One reporter whose family I knew got himself blown up as he tinkered in fascination with an improvised Viet Cong grenade.

Then there's the surviving film by a Swedish-Argentine video journalist Leonardo Henrichsen in Santiago, Chile, during the Pinochet 1973 coup. He was manning the camera.

You see the images keeps rolling as soldiers approach to shut his filming (for Swedish television), it tumbles and shows the lens-eye's last skaky views, then it goes black. Henrichsen was killed on the spot.

Now if you click on LeMonde's feed on the Gifford shooting you still get the dramatic, but more accurate

Etats-Unis : une députée entre la vie et la mort après une fusillade

Translation — United States: a congresswoman between life and death after a fusillade.

By the Orwellian magic of the Web, the newspaper goof never happened. Except it did.



woody woodruff said...

One is reminded of the late Frank Reynolds working without a net while live-reporting the shootings of Reagan and press guy Jim Brady. He reports that Brady is dead, then that he is not, and fulminates on the air about why they can't get it right...

g said...

Le Monde apologized (too late, I know) about publishing a wrong information last night, they say the information was coming from a sheriff and American medias. They were wrong to trust American medias!