By David Zurawik
The Baltimore Sun
2:30 AM EDT, October 30, 2012
A day's worth of some excellent storm coverage by CNN was all but shredded during the Piers Morgan show Monday night when meteorologist Chad Myers reported that the New York Stock Exchange was under three feet of water and the hip-shooting host ran wild with the report that turned out to be false.
What a shame for all those CNN correspondents in places like Rehoboth Beach, Ocean City and Asbury Park who spent the day and night standing in cold ocean water and rain doing such a fine job of reporting the story.
I had the recorder going on CNN all night, so I have the screw-up by Morgan and his producer. It only gets worse in replay.
Erin Burnett, who to her credit spent all night standing in brackish water in lower Manhattan as she hosted her show and reported for others, was explaining a panorama shot her videographer had of the darkened Manhattan skyline, when Morgan interrupted her.
"I'm going to go to Chad Myers who has some breaking news that he wanted to tell me, which I think will interest you, so stay with us," he said to Burnett.
Then to Myers, "... Chad tell us about the stock exchange."
"According to the National Weather Service, through broadcast media, there's three feet of water on the trading floor on Wall Street," Myers said.
"Wow," Morgan said.
"Three feet of water on the New York Stock Exchange, and Erin has spent a lot of time on that floor," Myers said.
"Let's go back to Erin straightaway," Morgan says. "Erin, you heard that: three feet of water on the Stock Exchange floor. What is that going to do to the ability of the floor to open again? Surely, they can't open tomorrow, probably not the day after, maybe the rest of the week. What does that do to the financial system?"
"... Piers, that is an incredible thing. It hasn't happened before," Burnett said. "It means it's going to be closed for a long, long time. The last time the New York Stock Exchange was closed just by making its own choice was back on Sept. 11, 2001. The last day it was closed for two days because of a natural storm was back in 1888. So, you're talking about a record-breaking moment, something people around the world have got to be shocked when they hear about tonight."
"Absolutely amazing," Morgan says.
Yes, it would be if it were true. And if the host had any news judgment, he would have tried to ascertain that. But Morgan wasn't about to let the fact that it was unconfirmed ground his flight of tabloid speculation.
"Chad, we're hearing the stock exchange hasn't been closed since the early part of the 19th Century," Morgan continues, as if he didn't hear Burnett say 1888. "... Quite extraordinary."
Before it's over, Morgan speculates what that three feet of water could mean to the presidential election and then goes to Ali Velshi, who is up to his hips in water in Atlantic City, to get even more speculation from him.
"...This will have an effect worldwide on peoples' wealth...," Velshi says.
Meanwhile, on the screen, under a banner that says "BREAKING NEWS" is the headline: "3 FEET OF WATER ON FLOOR OF NYSE."
And on it went until about 15 minutes later when Morgan and Myers had this exchange:
Piers Morgan: "You have an update on the stock exchange situation. Do we still think that three feet of water got into the exchange? There seem to be conflicting reports now."
Chad Myers: "Oh, is that right? You know, I got that from the National Weather Service chat bulletin board. It was right on there, it said three feet of water on the floor. I don't know if there’s conflicting reports or not."
Piers Morgan: "It's a lot of chaos out there, a lot of reports flying around."
Chad Myers: "Of course, power's out, lights are out; phones are probably not working. I don't know. I will clear it up though, I will figure it out whether that happened or not."
Memo to Morgan: Yes, there's a lot of "chaos out there," and your job is to bring fact-based clarity to the situation -- not add to the chaos with another false report.
Julie Moos, at Poynter, has the social media trail nailed down. Read it here.
What you will see are the tweets from Piers Morgan and his producer, Jonathan Wald, first reporting the three feet of water. The trail of journalistic malfeasance is fascinating. I urge you to use the link and note all the folks who propagated the misinformation.
CNN is too good to be the source of such misinformation being fed to an already rattled American public. Much of New York was without power Monday night while an unpredictable storm was claiming lives, and here's this false tabloid report fed to residents along with all kinds of crazy speculation about what it is going to do to the presidential election and "peoples' wealth."
And nowhere along the chain from Myers to Morgan to Wald to Burnett to Velshi, did anyone ask if this "quite extraordinary" and "incredible" report had actually been confirmed to the satisfaction of CNN's usual standards before putting it on the air.
For the record, here's a statement CNN sent when I asked about the false report: "Chad Myers referenced a National Weather Service report that turned out to be incorrect. We quickly made an on-air correction. We regret the error."
And here is CNN's transcript of the way Morgan addressed the mistake at the start of his midnight show:
Piers Morgan: "Chad, you've been tracking this all day, all night at CNN Weather Center. Lots of crazy stuff going on, crazy rumors flying around. Bring me up to speed with where we are with it all."Chad Myers: "Well, you know, the one thing that I’m focusing on now is that report from the National Weather Service, an official report that said there was three feet of water in the New York Stock Exchange. That would have been devastating to have those people out of work for so long. It turned out to be a false report. It was a National Service Report and I reported it and I completely regret that error on your show earlier Piers, but I don't question when they say there's fourteen inches of snow in West Virginia. I believe their report when the weather service says something. I believe them, but anyway… (he goes into the weather report)."
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