Blurring the line: ABC News crew gets busted staging a shot

In a rare opportunity, CNN got to report on an apparent gaffe by its competition:

ABC News correspondent Linsey Davis stood in a field in Woodruff, South Carolina, and relayed the gruesome details of how a 30-year-old woman had been held captive in a storage container allegedly by a registered sex offender.

Behind her, yellow police tape with the words “SHERIFF’S LINE DO NOT CROSS” flapped in the wind, indicating the scene of the crime.

In fact, the police tape was tied to ABC News’ own equipment just off-camera, a photograph obtained by CNNMoney shows. Sources with knowledge of the matter say the tape was placed there by ABC News for the purpose of its inclusion in the live shot.

Of course the tape was placed there just for the shot, why else would a news crew who couldn’t actually film in front of the real crime scene put up crime scene tape in the background?

At the point where a crew is putting up props in the background to suggest that a reporter is standing in front of the actual crime scene when that is not the case, that crew isn’t doing news anymore, they are reporting fiction. And fiction has no place in news. Period. You want to work on a drama or a “reality” TV show, then you go do that, but leave news to journalists who care about the facts.

We trust the various news media to tell us the truth. Trust takes a long time to build, and can be lost in an instant. In that vein, after reading about this, I find it a lot harder to trust ABC News as a source of information. To be fair, quoting later in the story:

“This action is completely unacceptable and fails to meet the standards of ABC News,” Julie Townsend, the vice president of communications at ABC News, told CNNMoney. “As soon as it was brought to our attention, we decided to take the producer out of the field, and we’re investigating further.”

Ms. Townsend did what she had to do when her crew got caught breaking one of the most basic rules of journalism. But it should not even have come down to this; the linked story goes on to note another instance where another ABC News reporter got busted for faking part of a story. So, to put it bluntly, this isn’t their first rodeo by a long shot.

It makes me wonder, in the post-Peter Jennings era, just how big of an ethics problem there is over at ABC News. This is not only an affront to the legacy of Peter Jennings, but also that of Roone Arledge among others. I wish Ms. Townsend the best of luck cleaning up this mess; she’s going to need it.

(Sidenote: I write the posts in this blog based on actual news events. If I wanted to write fiction I’d just run off and do that. The faking of a news story shot by a news crew is a news event, even if the shot itself is fiction. In fact, this is the worst kind of news there is. Reporters should be reporting the news, not becoming the focus of it.)