Correction: Post has been updated to account for Mike Tobin’s reporting at 2:52 p.m.
Fox News anchor Shepard Smith this afternoon churned out a lightning-quick correction about a bogus Fox News report that a person had been shot by a police officer in Baltimore. (You can watch some of the video over at Mediaite.) “We were wrong, our people on the scene were wrong,” said Smith in the aftermath of the error. “Theirs was an error that was honest and straightforward and our duty as journalists is not to make mistakes. And when we make mistakes, we are duty bound to correct them immediately and as clearly as possible.”
That apology came at about 3:30 p.m.
Just after 3:00 — after the start of Smith’s afternoon program “Shepard Smith Reporting” — the anchor broke in with some dramatic news: “And our producers in Baltimore say they saw a police officer shoot a man just moments ago,” said Smith. He followed that claim with some standard disclaimers about how Fox News “cannot frankly confirm what happened” even though he said Fox News personnel was right on the scene. “We’re hearing conflicting reports,” Smith also noted. Then he pitched the ball to Mike Tobin, the Fox News reporter on location. Here’s the journalism-school dimension of this story: Though Smith initially spoke of those “conflicting reports” and the need to confirm the event, Tobin brushed off such concerns by saying, “Well, Shep, we don’t have to worry that much about confirmation because it happened right in front of our eyes.”
Tobin added, “We saw a young black man running from a police officer and one shot came out, we counted one shot. And ran up on the scene and found that man on the ground. I couldn’t get a look at his wound but he looked in bad shape.” He also reported seeing a handgun on the scene. (Tobin had first broken into Fox News from the scene at 2:52 p.m.)
Over the next 20 minutes or so, Fox News essentially narrated the unraveling of this story. “We’ve been witness to something unfolding in Baltimore,” said Smith at 3:07 p.m., before switching to an address from President Obama. Later, Smith turned back to Baltimore and told viewers of an announcement from the Baltimore police: “Reports of a man being shot at North and Pennsylvania [Avenues] are not true,” said Smith, who added that officers had arrested a man in connection with a handgun.
Officers clarified that no one was shot in the incident, though a firearm appeared to have discharged.
After that statement came out, Smith went back to the scene, where Fox News reporter Leland Vittert interviewed a Baltimore police officer, who confirmed the news that “nobody was shot.” Vittert asked how the cop knew that. “Because we have no shooting victim,” said the cop. Why did witnesses say there was a gunshot wound? asked Vittert. Cop: “I think it was just a misperception in the community that stemmed out,” said the cop.
“Are you worried about how big this crowd is getting?” asked Vittert. “No — we’re fine right now,” replied the officer.
Smith came back in with this confession: “What’s happened is we screwed up — what it sounds like. I can tell you one thing, Mike Tobin would never — I’ve been through this. Mike Tobin thought he saw somebody get shot and there was a gun, and there was a patient on a stretcher and there was a woman who said she saw cops gun him down and there’s gonna be violence and all the rest of that and what we have is nothing.”
Elapsed time between “We don’t have to worry that much about confirmation” and correction: 29 minutes.
Correction: Post has been updated to account for Tobin’s reporting at 2:52 p.m.