After taking a 9:20 a.m. train from Bronxville to Grand Central last Friday, I had just arrived at my office when I received a breaking news email from CNN about the .
There were few details, just “As many as five people have been shot in front of the Empire State Building in New York, a fire department spokesman said.”
My first reaction was to turn and look out my window and take this photograph, which shows the iconic building rising over Madison Avenue from Fifth, and then I turned to Twitter to get the latest.
Of course my initial thoughts went to terrorism, most likely of the sort perpetrated at the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, and with various tweets indicating that a single gunman was dead, there was an fast sense of relief that it wasn’t going to get worse, and was likely a random act of violence. But while Twitter has shown time and time again to be the initial source for breaking news, reliable it is not.
Soon tweets started popping into my feed indicating there were multiple gunmen. That the gunmen had killed multiple people inside the lobby of the Empire State Building.
Goes to show you can’t believe everything you read. I learned this back in December of last year when we had a tragic accident at our office building – I knew what was going on first hand – but initial reports from local papers like the NY Post and Daily News had key facts wrong.
So while Twitter, including tweets directly from traditional media sources, can bring us information in an instant, the rush to be first in reporting often leads to mistakes. Mistakes that can cause unwarranted fear – I made sure to call my mom back home to let her know I was OK, in case she caught wind of this being more widespread than it really was.
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A key voice of reason seemed to be Dave Price, the new anchor over at Fox 5. Price was quick to scold his reporters who brought rumor to the table, and despite his ultimate boss, Rupert Murdoch’s conservative views, laid the issue of gun control and gun violence on the table as the morning went on.
Taking a break from work, I headed down to the scene, which the NYPD had firmly under control. Still, rumors were rampant, with reporters pleading to the crowds – “did anyone see what happened, will anyone talk?”
After taking a few photographs, I headed back to Madison Avenue. I saw another tweet come through – “See, THIS is why everyone should be allowed to carry a gun!”
Really? As it turns out, all of the gunshot wounds – with the exception of the shooter’s initial target, were caused by the police. And the police did a fine job stopping Jeffrey Johnson, and certainly had no choice but to shoot him dead.
But if trained police officers, working under strict protocols, can accidently shoot civilians, what would have happened if a dozen vigilantes with guns had pulled them out and began firing on that crowded Fifth Avenue sidewalk?
That would have been a much, much worse scenario, one truly worth of panic.