Timeline of a Debacle: CNN Blows News of Boston Bombing Arrest

Timeline of a Debacle: CNN Blows News of Boston Bombing Arrest

The Associated Press, Fox News, and a number of local Boston media outlets were all guilty of reporting that an arrest in Monday’s Boston Marathon bombing had been made. But CNN stood alone in both its dramatic reporting of the arrest-that-never-was and the public meltdown that followed.

At right around 1:45pm ET, CNN rolled out its “Breaking News” video and then cut to Wolf Blitzer who announced that reporter John King had big news.

Working his cell phone, King breathlessly reported that his “Boston law enforcement source” had confirmed that an arrest had been made in the Boston Marathon bombing. Minutes later, CNN’s Fran Townsend, via phone, confirmed the same through a second source — what she described as a “federal source.”

Townsend then spent more than ten-minutes explaining in detail what would come next now that an arrest was made.  

While this was going on, Fox News, the Associated Press, and a number of local Boston outlets were reporting the same.

Meanwhile, over at NBC News, Pete Williams was sounding terribly alone with his insistence that no arrest had been made.

At the top of the hour, 2pm, Blitzer’s shift ended and Chris Cuomo and Boston Globe reporter Juliette Kayyem took over.

John King was still there repeating his story, the chyron screamed “Arrest in Boston Bombing Case,” and things went as far as Cuomo reporting that the AP was reporting that “U.S. marshalls were taking the suspect to a federal courthouse.”

On and on and on this went on for about ten minutes: Kayyem and Cuomo talking while King workied his cell phone. About 2:13pm, Anderson Cooper joined the group.

Outside of CNN, though, the story was already falling apart. CBS was adamant no arrest had been made and then, right there on-the-air, John King took a call and ducked off-camera.

Then the CNN chyron changed to: “Sources: Arrest in Boston Bombings.”

Then, at 2:27pm, the bottom fell out:


Then the chyron changed to: “Conflicting Reports on Bombing Arrest.”

Then John King disappeared completely.

What followed was a bizarrely uncomfortable 45 minutes of live television as Cuomo, Kayyem, and Cooper stood in the merciless sun and tried to clean up an absolute debacle without looking like they were cleaning up an absolute debacle.

This gets my vote for the low point:


If Jon Stewart and “SNL” don’t take advantage of those awkward 45 minutes, they should be arrested for comedy-malpractice.

What was truly amateur hour, though, was CNN not going to commercial to give its anchors the opportunity to regroup. The live shot was unrelenting as the three victims, who had nothing to do with the bad reporting, just stood there jabbering and slowly melting.

Eventually, John King would return to blame his sources, but until the ever-competent Jake Tapper took over with his 4pm show “The Lead,” the whole CNN network was one big, listing poop cruise lumbering into a dock it couldn’t seem to find.

After blowing the ObamaCare ruling and being caught red-handed using two days of broadcast time to push for gun control, “The Most Trusted Name In News” is gunna need a new tagline.


Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC               


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