Fake press releases turn into breaking news–the high price of immediacy

October 20, 2009

You remember what happened on Sept 11, 2009. Breaking news from CNN about a possible terrorist attack on the Potomac near where Pres. Obama passed by. Got picked up and broadcast around the world in moments. Turns out it was just a routine Coast Guard drill. Some citizen overheard a private radio message that included the words “bang bang” to simulate gun shots and CNN immediately took off with the story.

Here’s another example: CNBC and Reuters both jumped on a press release from US Chamber of Commerce saying they reversed their stance on climate change legislation. Breaking News! Only, it wasn’t. It was a hoax.

You might think that news organizations like CNN, CNBC and Reuters would start exercising a little more editorial care. Don’t bet on it. Media today live or die on immediacy–they simply can’t afford to be too slow so they will take the risks of such false reporting. That’s they way it is and I don’t see it changing any time soon.

That’s why my advice to clients is a rapid response team focused on rumor management. Organizations need to see that a primary task today is monitoring and then very quickly responding to false information. My question is, what US Chamber prepared to identify the problem and quickly set it straight with an immediate posting on their website, distribution to all media outlets and statements their spokespeople could use in the moments after this aired? That’s what’s critical in crisis communication today.

UPDATE!!!

—Oh my gosh, this gets stranger and stranger:

Fox News (runs with the breaking news only to change course mid-stream)

And then this “fake news conference”  wow!

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