Mistakes have always been made by the press because there are so many ways to get a story wrong and so few to get it right. As the Washington Post‘s Erik Wemple notes, the source of much of the bad Newtown information the press retailed to the public was the police. Anyone who has ever covered crime will tell you that the police can be just as confused in the early going at a crime scene as anybody. Their information is provisional, and it should be treated as extra-provisional if police don’t want to be named individually or identified by the police force they work for. For that reason, when a reporter attributes his crime scene information to a “source,” it might be true. Or, as we’ve seen in the Newtown massacre, it might not be true.
The more cops on a crime scene, the more confusing things can get, and lord knows that every law enforcement officer with a badge within driving distance of Newtown made an instant effort to work on this crime. I doubt that the local police were accustomed to working with such a ferocious and demanding press horde within hours of a big crime.