February 4, 2013

(Mickey Welsh/Associated Press)

In the early stages of reporting on the Newtown, Conn., shootings, many media outlets relied on “law enforcement sources” to report that a fellow named Ryan Lanza was the massacre’s culprit. Those law enforcement sources turned out to be wrong: It was Ryan Lanza’s brother, Adam.

Critics hammered media outlets for that mistake and others that rested on the testimony of the famed Anonymous Law Enforcement Official (ALEO).

ALEO’s career is in good shape, judging from initial reports from Alabama.

ABC News earlier this afternoon published this:

A week-long Alabama standoff in which a retired trucker held a 5-year-old boy hostage in an underground bunker has ended, according to law enforcement sources.

Fox News had this:

A five-year-old boy who was being held hostage in an underground bunker in Alabama for nearly a week has been released, a law enforcement source, citing reports, told Fox News.

Reuters had this:

Authorities killed a gunman holding a 5-year-old boy hostage in an underground bunker in rural Alabama on Monday and plucked the child to safety without injury, a local law enforcement official said.

As it turned out, ALEO was much better informed in the Alabama situation than in the Newtown situation: A 5:30 p.m. press conference confirmed that the child managed to emerge physically unharmed and that the suspect is now “deceased.” It appears that news organizations relied on ALEO because no one in officialdom could speak on the record before the press conference.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.