Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Criminal Profiling Topic of the Day: Misreporting (or lying) by the Media and Law Enforcement

There is a BIG difference between reporting the news, doing commentary, and making up the news and sadly too much of the last category seems to be increasing these days. Here are a few examples that come to mind that tick me off:

1) Hurricane Sandy: I was watching the news throughout the day and it seemed like the reporters in Maryland weren't exactly getting as big a local story as they had hoped for (unlike NJ and NY), so they exaggerated the situation. "The streets are flooded!" exclaimed one reporter at which my son drily (pun intended) pointed out that the clip shown with that statement wouldn't have gotten the sides of your shoes wet. Making news more exciting may get viewers and ratings but it is unfair to misrepresent what is really happening.

2) During the early days of the reporting on the Jessica Ridgeway case, almost all the reporters stated in their articles that "Jessica left the home at....." when in fact there was not yet proof at that point that Jessica left her home of her own accord. The correct reporting should have been, "Sarah Ridgeway, Jessica's mother, states that Jessica left the home at....". Later, when there was proof this was so, it could be stated, "Jessica left the home at...." Such inaccuracies could have impacted tips to the police.

3) Just today the Huffington Post in the UK reported online that a Chinese man sued his wife for not telling him she had $100,000 worth of plastic surgery to make herself beautiful and, consequently, he was blindsided when she birthed one ugly baby girl. Problem is, that story was rolling around in 2004 and I have not even yet been able to prove that it was not a hoax at the time.

Here's the thing: the media should report the facts, not make them up or guess what is true or base a story on unsubstantiated rumors (or stories by other media that have no credibility). And commentary should clearly be commentary and it should be based on facts and not unproven guesswork (then one should say, "If..."). News should not be exaggerated to make it a bigger story and muck up people's lives. People make choices based on what they "learn" through the media.

Sometimes media reports untruths because they are told untruths by those that they interview like politicians and the police. They should make clear that these are statements by these particular people and then the onus of lying falls on those who lie. I have a whole different set of issues with misrepresentation of the facts by law enforcement as I feel that it makes the citizens mistrust the police and this screws up future investigations. It also can be blatantly dangerous if the citizens do not get the correct information to provide for their own safety. Sometimes police do this to trip up some killer by misreporting the facts of the case but I have yet to see that this is a useful method and that any positive results outweigh the damage done by lying to the public.

Listen in on tonight's Profile This! (or listen to the recording for October 30, 2012) for further discussion of the issues of lying and misreporting in the media, by law enforcement, by families, by victims of crime (like those girls who claim they were kidnapped when they weren't), and by folks in our lives.

Criminal Profiler Pat Brown

October 30, 2012

Pat Brown's Books

Only the Truth
How to Save Your Daughter's Life
Profile of the Disappearance of Madeleine McCann
The Profiler
Killing for Sport