For more than 24-hours, CNN has been regularly playing a clip of audio which purports to reveal the exact moment when 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot by Officer Darren Wilson. Each time it was played, the CNN anchors and hosts noted that the sound could not be independently verified by the network, but it was just too good to wait to play it for viewers.
CNN’s ratings have been phenomenal since the violence in Ferguson erupted, and the network has displayed a tendency in the past to latch onto any development no matter how dubious that keeps a ratings-grabbing story alive. The suspect audio supposedly of the moment when police shot and killed Brown may be another of these moments.
On Wednesday morning, CNN’s Michaela Pereira invited two former law enforcement officials on the program to discuss the authenticity of the tape.
“I’ve told your producers that for all I know this is one of Howard Stern’s punk people,” former LAPD officer David Klinger said. “It came out, what, two weeks after the event, and so I don’t have a high degree of confidence in it.”
“But, it could be real,” he added without much enthusiasm.
Klinger noted that his first inclination is “someone is trying to punk CNN.”
CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes seemed to share Klinger’s opinion. He left open the possibility that the audio, which to him sounded dubbed, may have been manipulated by CNN’s producers before it was aired. “My producer says that’s all we were given,” Pereira said.
“When I heard this yesterday, I thought the exact same thing: it’s a hoax,” Fuentes added.
He went on to note that, even if the tape is real, it supports the claims of both Brown and Wilson’s supporters and is not of much evidentiary value.
If this audio does prove to be a hoax, it is not an understandable mistake that anyone could have made – if only because everyone didn’t make it, just CNN. When a story that still commands significant audience attention runs out of facts to report, incidents like these are more likely to occur.
CNN’s coverage of the events in Ferguson has, for the most part, been both compelling and informative. The ratings the network has earned are deserved. However, if this audio does turn out to be inauthentic, it would be another opportunity for CNN to learn the lessons of their saturation coverage of the missing Malaysian passenger airliner; sacrificing credibility for ratings is never a good tradeoff.