In the midst of a stream of breaking news around the shootings today at the Navy Yard in Washington DC, NBC and CBS stumbled. At around 1 PM ET, both networks reported that the shooter of at least 11 people at the DC facility as Rollie Chance, a Navy officer. “NBC News I-Unit head RT @REspositoNBC: Shooter identified as a Rollie Chance #NavyYardShooting,” tweeted NBC News’ Chuck Todd just before 1 PM ET. CBS reported the shooter’s name soon afterwards too. The problem was both NBC and CBS were wrong and had to retract the information. “BREAKING. @johnmillercbs advises the initial reports identifying the suspected shooter as Rollie Chance are wrong,’ tweeted CBS producer Charlie Kaye just before 1 PM. “NBC News: we are now NOT reporting name of shooter; retracting that report. deleting those tweets,” tweeted Todd at 1:05 PM. Less than half and hour later, Todd added, “The confusion over the shooter name had to do with an I.D. card found near dead gunman; What led to bad initial reporting.” Todd didn’t stop there. “I know folks are relishing an opportunity to get out their hatred for media; I’m just trying to provide context for what we got wrong,” he added. At 2:46 PM, NBC News’ Pete Williams identified the shooter as civilian contractor Aaron Alexis based on reports from federal officials. The gunman was killed in a shootout with police today. Police officials did not confirm or deny that other shooters were involved. Shots first were reported at around 8:15 AM ET.
This latest jump to conclusions comes after CNN, Fox, the Boston Globe and others had to backtrack on reports that a suspect had been arrested in the Boston Marathon bombing. Late last year, in the immediate aftermath of the Newtown shooting, CBS News incorrectly reported what happened and that Adam Lanza’s mother Nancy Lanza was a teacher at the school and that her son had attacked her classroom. Cautioning against such mistakes, on June 26 the networks and cable news stepped gingerly in order to not make any live on-air mistakes when reporting the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage rulings. CNN in particular was quick to report that the Court had made decision but, not wanting to repeat their mistake of initially getting the Court’s 2012 Obamacare ruling wrong, waited several more minutes until 7:08 AM ET to get into the actual ruling.