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CNN showed burning cars and said it was scene from Baltimore. But it wasn’t | COMMENTARY

CNN broadcast images of protest-related violence identifying the scene as Baltimore when it was in fact Philadelphia. The channel later issued a correction.
CNN broadcast images of protest-related violence identifying the scene as Baltimore when it was in fact Philadelphia. The channel later issued a correction. (Screen grab)

If you were watching CNN at 5:51 p.m. Saturday, you saw an image of two cars burning in the street that probably brought back bad memories of 2015 and the uprising following the death of Freddie Gray.

The channel was using a split screen to show protests and confrontations around the country in reaction to the death Monday in Minneapolis of George Floyd. One side was labeled San Francisco, the other Baltimore.

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“You can see live pictures there on the left side of your screen, in San Francisco, and also pictures on the right side there in Baltimore provided by our affiliate WBFF. We are seeing in some cases vandalism and violence and police firing back with tear gas as well as rubber bullets," anchor Ana Cabrera said.

Except the pictures on the right side of the screen were not from Baltimore. They were from Philadelphia. There were no cars burning in Baltimore at the time, according to Baltimore Sun reporters across the city.

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At 6:48 p.m., CNN came back from commercial with live images of Philadelphia.

“I’m going to take you to Philadelphia now, live pictures from the scene,” Cabrera told viewers. “And I want to apologize. I identified this earlier as Baltimore. It is Philadelphia, which we are looking at right now. That city is seeing more unrest. And, again, I apologize for the earlier mistake of misidentifying the location.”

In the kind of rolling coverage of unrest spreading across the country, control rooms can become hectic spaces with images coming fast and furious.

But seeing the kind of images that traumatized this community in 2015 again onscreen and labeled as Baltimore was shocking to some viewers here nevertheless.

A CNN spokeswoman promptly replied when I asked about it, and said she would check with the control room. Within minutes, she came back saying a correction would be issued.

As for the WBFF tag on the footage, a Sinclair spokesman said it was not from WBFF.

“The video CNN showed of cars on fire with the WBFF logo was not video from us. The video appears to have been from Philadelphia. We talked with CNN and they said they were correcting,” J. Michael McCormick, group news director for the Sinclair Broadcast Group, said in an email response to the Sun.

David Zurawik is The Sun’s media critic. Email: david.zurawik@baltsun.com; Twitter: @davidzurawik.

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