NEW YORK, May 10, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- "Our house is on fire."
That's how Scott Pelley, anchor and managing editor of "The CBS Evening News," described the state of American journalism as he accepted the Fred Friendly First Amendment Award from Quinnipiac University during a luncheon today at The Metropolitan Club.
Pelley told the audience of 140, including many high ranking television executives and representatives of Quinnipiac's School of Communications, that American journalists are focusing more on being first than accurate.
"These have been a bad few months for journalism," Pelley said. "We're getting the big stories wrong over and over again. Let me take the first arrow. During our coverage of Newtown, I sat on my set and I reported that Nancy Lanza was a teacher at the school and that her son had attacked her classroom. It's a hell of a story, but it was dead wrong."
Pelley said he believes reporting errors are happening more often now than ever before because more information is available to more people. "And never before in human history has more bad information been available to more people," he said.
The San Antonio, Texas native said the Boston Marathon bombings were a low point for American journalism.
"Our nation was attacked by terrorists," Pelley said. "I cannot think of a time when the public that we serve needs accurate, timely information more than in those moments when our country is under attack."
Pelley said the Boston bombings spawned amateur journalists who became digital vigilantes, who marked innocent people as suspects and posted their pictures on social media.
"That fire that started on the Internet spread to our more established newsrooms," Pelley said. "In a world where everyone is a publisher, no one is an editor. And that is the danger we face today."
Pelley said during the attack in Boston, the FBI issued a press release begging journalists to confirm their information before putting it on the air. President Barack Obama said in this age of instant reporting, Tweets and blogs, there is a temptation to latch on to any bit of information, sometimes jumping to conclusions. But when a tragedy like this happens with public safety at risk and the stakes so high, it's important that we do this right.
"The president of the United States and the FBI were telling us what our bedrock principles should be," Pelley said. "Aren't we supposed to be watching them?"
Pelley said he believes Friendly also would have sounded the alarm about the dangers of the industry's obsession with being first. "In my own words, let me tell you what Fred Friendly would have thought about being first," Pelley said. "If you're first, no one will ever remember. If you're wrong, no one will ever forget."
SOURCE Quinnipiac University