Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Anatomy of an Inaccuracy

By now most everyone knows that the shooter in the Virginia case was not Chinese, but Korean. South Korean, to be specific. In fact, in my view: Mostly American really, since he was raised in the States from the time he was a boy.

What interests me most about this is the reporting -- including the Melon's -- yesterday of the possible Chinese mainland and student-visa status of the shooter. That reporting was clearly inaccurate. But how did it happen? And is it acceptable for a newspaper -- or a blog for that matter -- to report "maybes?"

This will take some time and probably several posts, but I'll try to detail here the source and the process of the inaccurate information being published.

The first reference to the possible Chinese and visiting-student identity of the shooter appeared in the Sun Times article of yesterday. Interestingly enough, because of the nature of the web, there's no record of that article on the site now; unlike the days of the famous "Dewey Defeats Truman" headline, there's no physical evidence that the report was there. In fact, can it even be called erroneous, since the newspaper framed the story in terms of "may have been?" Hmmm...don't know, but it certainly doesn't look good.

The following lines in a Sun Times story today seem to address yesterday's story:

The initial investigation had led law enforcement authorities to a preliminary suspect who was a Chinese national, accompanied by details and a description. The man was placed on the suspect list before fingerprints could be verified. The list in turn was distributed to law enforcement officials via a national network in place to check on possible terrorism in the United States.

Cho was identified following an analysis of fingerprints and ballistics.

A Chinese colleague's daughter who works for Ming Bao, a Chinese paper published in the States, also seemed convinced of the shooter's Chinese identity yesterday, via emails on this topic exchanged among colleagues.

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