Indignity Vol. 2, No. 30: Smoke signaling.
THE WORST THING WE READ THIS WEEK™
The Worst Draft of History
THERE IS AN unavoidable gap between the moment people start to know something newsworthy has happened and the moment people understand what the news is. News organizations, under the strain of not being able to give the public the answers it needs, often fill that space with their worst tendencies.
This morning, somebody shot multiple people on the subway in Brooklyn. The fire department announced they were dealing with smoke and explosive devices at the scene. And—for quite a while, that was it. There were rumors and conflicting follow-up reports, but nothing added up to a story.
So the New York Times responded to the news of something shocking and unexplained by immediately trying to jam it into a preexisting explanation:
Several people were shot on the platform of a Brooklyn subway station during the Tuesday morning rush, officials said, a violent episode that heightened simmering fears about public safety that have hindered New York City’s push to recover from the pandemic.
This was in the hastily written five-paragraph breaking-news version of the story. The fifth and final paragraph was, in its entirety, "A spokesman for Mayor Eric Adams declined to comment as reports were still preliminary."
Eric Adams has so far not demonstrated much prudence or circumspection, but here his office showed better news judgment than the Times.