false news story issued from Zimbabwe yesterday that a Boeing 767 had crashed in Harare after having been hijacked from London. Airport authorities at Harare International created the fiction as part of a disaster drill using realistic conditions.
"This Just In" on CNN, London's The Sun, and a German News Agency are a few of the media outlets that reported the accident. I don't know how to determine how many times the news was broadcast, tweeted or otherwise digitally distributed, but let's assume that those three news organizations were probably not alone.
It is enough to say that the government of Zimbabwe did what governments always do, spin the media for their own purposes. The news media did, what it does these days, regurgitate the message with more concern for rapidity than veracity.
I'm still chuckling over the comment of Gilles Lordet, from Reporters Without Borders who reportedly told the Associated Press, "This further discredits journalists, and encourages those who say journalists only flap their gums."
At the end of the day, Zimbabwe's Aviation chief, called the drill a success because "all our systems worked perfectly. Police, security and hospital staff reacted swiftly." That's the purpose of a drill after all, to practice response, analyze the results, see what works and what does not and learn from the experience.
The irony is that journalists don't seem to have taken a moment to reflect on how they ended up "flapping their gums," as Lordet so eloquently put it. No, they are off and running with their ire at the Zimbabwean government for the deception.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not endorsing government lying, I'm just not surprised by it. And journalists who have been around the block more than once shouldn't be surprised either. Looking back over this disaster drill, there are lessons that journalists would be wise to heed.