CNN Didn't Do Their Homework, Pushed Total Fake Story About Mass Shooting
In May of 2018, there was a deadly mass shooting in Texas at the Houston-area Santa Fe High School in which 10 innocent people were murdered and another 13 wounded after a gunman opened fire inside a section of the building.
Major media outlets rushed to publish any new information and share the first-hand accounts of survivors and victims as quickly as possible. A few major outlets, however, failed to do their due diligence and verify the accuracy of the story.
The Texas Tribune published an astonishing report on Monday showing that establishment media organizations like CNN, Time Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and, closer to home, The Austin American-Statesman, all publicized a false account of the incident from a man named David Briscoe who claimed to have been a substitute English teacher at the school on that fateful day.
Briscoe told shared a harrowing tale of ordering his students to take cover and be quiet, of blocking off the classroom door with desks and chairs, and of hearing the gunshots and screams of the victims who’d been shot — all of which and more was published by establishment outlets.
Briscoe had contacted The Tribune in April to inquire about doing an interview with that outlet as well, nearly a year after the shooting, but unlike the aforementioned media outlets, The Tribune decided to investigate the man’s claims prior to publishing and found some huge holes in his story — chiefly, that he wasn’t even at the school (or in the state of Texas at all) at the time of the shooting.
The Santa Fe Independent School District has no record of a man named David Briscoe working as a substitute teacher — or in any other capacity — not only on the day of the shooting but ever in the history of the district.
Santa Fe ISD Superintendent Leigh Wall told The Tribune, “We are extremely disappointed that an individual that has never been a part of our school community would represent themselves as a survivor of the mass violence tragedy that our community endured.”
“This situation illustrates how easily misinformation can be created and circulated, especially when the amount of detailed information available is limited due to the still ongoing investigation,” Wall added.
Other details of Briscoe’s account soon fell apart when presented to Lt. James Roy of the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office, specifically the claim that Briscoe could hear the gunshots and screams from his purported location in an English classroom. The shooting occurred on the other side of the school near the art classrooms and a loud fire alarm that was immediately pulled would have muffled the sounds of gunfire and screams from that distance.
“The best I can tell, we have no record of [Briscoe],” Roy told The Tribune of the man’s claim to have been on campus. The officer added, “If he was anywhere other than that hallway [where the shooting took place], I don’t think he could’ve heard anything but the fire alarm.”
Even more damning for Briscoe’s story — and the media outlets who ran with it — is that basic public records show that Briscoe was living in Florida at the time of the shooting, and that there is no record of his ever having lived anywhere in the state of Texas.
When The Tribune attempted to follow-up with Briscoe in May about the discrepancies in his story, everything suddenly changed and Briscoe claimed to have been the victim of identity theft — with the thief presumably concocting the whole tale to share with the media — and admitted that he had never lived in Texas and wasn’t a survivor of the Santa Fe shooting … shortly before declining to respond to any further inquiries.
The Tribune contacted the four major media outlets and shared what had been learned about Briscoe, and all four quickly removed any references to him in their stories about the shooting.
John Bridges, executive editor of the Austin American-Statesman, told The Tribune that the hoax Briscoe pulled off was “sick” and “sad,” and said, “I don’t know what motivates people to try to take advantage of a tragedy like this.”
“Reporters can face significant reporting hurdles in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy, and some people, unfortunately, attempt to take advantage of those situations and try to dupe reporters,” Bridges added.
Unfortunately, Bridges is right, especially during a time when infamy and fame seem to hold equal appeal.
The hoax is a timely reminder that reporters and editors for major media outlets like CNN, Time Magazine, and The Wall Street Journal must do their homework and verify their information before publishing a story, regardless of any time-crunch or desire to “scoop” their rivals. A little research could have prevented the false story from reaching the public entirely.
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