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Sep. 11 2009 - 10:55 am | 18 views | 1 recommendation | 3 comments

Potomac Coast Guard incident like World Trade Center fly-by all over again? Not without the media’s help

People are bugging out right now over whether or not 10 rounds of ammunition were fired by the Coast Guard in the Potomac River near the Pentagon in Washington, DC around the same time as President Obama was visiting.

The topic is trending like crazy all over Twitter and in the news, it’s on top of Drudge, and a lot of people are saying it’s like the WTC fly by all over again. That, you will recall, was an incident this April where one of the planes that sometimes serves as Air Force One flew low over Lower Manhattan for an ill thought out photo opportunity.

And what we appear to have here is a failure to communicate. Or for the major newswires to agree about what’s happening. Or more like a major news organization reporting unverified information that someone overheard on a police scanner.

The news as it broke on CNN and is being screamed about reads:

The U.S. Coast Guard tried to prevent a boat from entering a security zone on the Potomac River not far from the Pentagon Friday, where President Obama had been at an event commemorating the Sept. 11 attacks.

There were reports on police scanners that the Coast Guard fired 10 rounds of ammunition, but those reports could not immediately be confirmed. It was not immediately clear from the reports whether they referred to warning shots.

The incident took place between the Memorial and 14th Street bridges, in a zone that had been blocked off because of the ceremonies.

The timing of the incident was not immediately clear, but President Obama had departed the Pentagon shortly after 10 a.m. ET. Reports of the incident came in shortly after 10 a.m. ET.

Timestamp on that story was 10:20 am. Over at AP, though, at 10:24, here was the report:

The Coast Guard was conducting a training exercise in the Potomac River moments before President Barack Obama and his motorcade crossed a nearby bridge.

Coast Guard Chief Keith Moore said Friday no shots were fired as part of the exercise. Media reports suggested shots had been fired in the river.

via News from The Associated Press.

So while CNN said it could not reach the Coast Guard for comment, AP has one less than five minutes later. Either Chief Moore is lying to the AP, or CNN’s fancy new competing newswire got this story very wrong by reporting unverified information that someone heard on a police scanner.

And that’s important in the fall out. Already, CNN, who manufactured this fake story, is quoting President Bush’s hyperpartisan former Homeland Security adviser Fran Townsend as saying that this was “felony stupidity.” When the “Air Force One” fly by in Lower Manhattan occurred, hundreds if not thousands of people bore witnesses to something that tremendously freaked them out – there was video and photos taken that showed what a freak out incident it really was.

A couple of boats moving up the Potomac isn’t quite the same thing – were thousands of Washingtonians standing on the edge of the river and working nearby running for their lives? Did residents call the police panicking because they heard shots fired? Did the Secret Service think someone was trying to blow up a bridge the President was driving over?

Apparently not.

Instead, on a news day otherwise filled with somber reflection and recollection of real terrorist attacks 8 years ago, a couple of media outlets hyped up what appear to have been a few boats moving around the Potomac River. In all likelihood, no one would have noticed these boats doing their thing if CNN hadn’t invented some gunfire that didn’t actually occur. Perhaps there shouldn’t be any training exercises being conducted on 9/11, but perhaps this is just the day for people who protect us to practice so they’re prepared and alert.

And the media should focus on the real story today: where we are as a society eight years after the tragedies of 9/11. This “news story” suggests to me that it’s not a great place.

Update: No wonder we have panic here! The US Park Police were not informed according to Reuters:

“They’re in a training exercise and we didn’t know it. Somebody reported that they had shot at somebody. That was part of the training exercise,” said Lt. Mike Libby of the U.S. Park Police, who was by the river near the 14th Street Bridge.

How could the US Park Police not be informed? They spend so much time protecting our nation’s parks, especially from DC Council Member Marion Barry and his latest girlfriend. NEVER FORGET 9/11!

Seriously: 9,000,000 tweets later, I can’t find a single person who was near the Potomac who was ’scared’ by whatever it was the Coast Guard was doing. The felony stupidity here is whatever editor/producer greenlighted a report of gunshots on the Potomac without confirming it, not a routine training exercise.


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    I'm waiting for the day when I can get the news directly into my brain. Until then, I'll be lit up by the electric glow of screens, chasing the latest breaking like the hopeless news junkie I am. Ever since the Encyclopaedia Britannica tried to launch a web portal ten years ago, I've seen many ends of the online news spectrum, from my time as a political news reporter for both RawStory.com and the Huffington Post to the better part of a year I spent running the late New York Sun's website. There have been a lot of other stops in between. Now I am your homepage editorial overlord. But I haven't let it go to my head. Yet.

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