DC Train crash–the predictable media fault finding

June 23, 2009

This report from the BBC about the tragic train crash in DC yesterday is so predictable and yet so disturbing.

In the aftermath of almost any accident or tragedy, one of the first things news media will do is dig for evidence that it was preventable, that there were warnings, that officials were negligent, that someone is to blame. So, yes, they found a warning that the trains should be phased out issued by the NTSB back in 2009. That’s what leads this story.

Is there any evidence presented that old trains had anything to do with the incident? None whatsoever. But the reader is left with the unmistakable impression that someone didn’t heed a strong warning (doesn’t look like such a warning to me) but they heedlessly went ahead and ran old trains against the NTSB’s wishes. Clearly negligent, careless, and if they were a for-profit organization, clear evidence that profits are put ahead of people.

It isn’t until the last sentence in the report (surprising to even find it in there) that this is the first fatality in nearly 30 years for the system.

Why is this kind of reporting so common and apparently so necessary? It isn’t just that if it bleeds it leads, it is if someone can be blamed it leads, and of course, they higher up they go, the more it leads. Now, if we could just find evidence that Bush or Obama were behind this outrageous negligent act of ignoring the warning, it would be all over the place.

I’m certain there are warnings about just about anything in the files in your organization. All it takes for them to become the blaring headline on the BBC is for something serious to go wrong. Then those warnings will be used as public evidence for your carelessness–whether the warnings had anything to do with the incident or not.

Sorry, but this kind of news coverage really gets me.

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3 Responses to “DC Train crash–the predictable media fault finding”

  1. Doug Says:

    There’s also a a media relations issue, as the media were removed from the scene approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes into the incident. Further, it appears that the mayor of DC was stifling the departmental PIOs. Check out http://www.statter911.com for more info.

  2. Gentry Lassiter Says:

    I read the story in today’s paper and was indeed left with the idea that the accident was a result of faulty, old equipment. It would be interesting to understand the appeal of this type of story to journalists. Leads like this certainly shock readers into reading the story – perhaps that’s the reason.

    Would the fact that this is the first fatality on the Metro system in 30 years garner as much audience interest during the first two days of news coverage? I am not sure.

    Doug also has a point: I am sure removing media and stifling departmental PIOs only exacerbated the issue.


  3. […] very favorite crisisblogger, Gerald Baron, has two posts so far on the crash. The first was on the poor job done by initial reports on the cause of the crash. The second reviewed the […]


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