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Our view: Getting it wrong, at least temporarily

3:36 PM, May 21, 2013  |  Comments
A member of a security team helps guard an area of rubble from a destroyed residential neighborhood, one day after a tornado moved through Moore, Okla., Tuesday.
A member of a security team helps guard an area of rubble from a destroyed residential neighborhood, one day after a tornado moved through Moore, Okla., Tuesday.
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In the fight to be first, the media can be thankful if they sometimes get it wrong.

For many long hours on Monday night and into the early morning hours of Tuesday, all major media were reporting 51 dead in the horrific tornado near Oklahoma City, including about 20 children.

Later Tuesday morning, however, the death toll estimate was adjusted - to 24. Amy Elliot, spokeswoman for the state medical examiner's office, told USA Today that she believes some victims were counted twice in the early chaos after the storm cut a path more than a mile wide through the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, population 41,000.

Today's news cycle has no beginning or end. It is 24-7-365 and often nasty, in-your-face and over the edge. But the gloves generally come off when tragedy of the nature of the Oklahoma tornado hits. The networks and major newspapers continue to shoot for ratings in their coverage, to be sure, but even that usually takes a back seat to simply reporting the human impact of such an event.

Thus, depending on many of the same sources, the media was agreed that at least 51 people had died when this twister on steroids decided to do its thing. It came as a relief to many to realize that the media had been misinformed - had indeed been woefully wrong - in its reporting of the most elemental fact in the entire gruesome scenario, the number who perished.

How can that happen when there are reporters and cameras everywhere?

We should not be too quick to "blame" the media. The situation was chaotic in the extreme, and many people were saying many things. Trying to separate the wheat from the chaff in instances like this is no easy undertaking. When the news "cycle" consisted of one newspaper delivery per day and was sans cable TV, the media got one shot at getting it right.

Now, we go with the best information available at the moment and adjust on the fly. Many will argue the relative merits of the two approaches, but the reality is that all-the-time news is here to stay, and we live with the sometimes inevitable consequences of jumping to conclusions that aren't always there.

For the most part, we get it right, but not always. At least, not right away.

Our prayers are with those affected by the Oklahoma tornado. That, at least, will not change with the next news report.

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