Wednesday, April 24, 2013

CNN Admits Accessing AP Twitter Feed, Denies Hacking Allegations

SAN NARCISO, Calif. (Bennington Vale Evening Transcript) -- The main Twitter account of the Associated Press (AP) was compromised Tuesday when alleged hackers posted a tweet about an implied terrorist attack on the White House. The message said President Obama had sustained injuries after two explosions erupted from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The spurious tweet panicked Wall Street investors and briefly sent stocks tumbling. Shortly after the FBI opened an investigation into the incident, the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) took credit for hijacking the news cooperative's accounts. Authorities, however, could not corroborate the SEA's claims. On Wednesday, embarrassed representatives from CNN admitted that they had accessed the Twitter feed to help the AP break an "important developing story from a variety of reliable sources." CNN denied accusations of hacking or intentionally reporting falsehoods.

The Syrian Electronic Army initially seemed the likeliest suspects, and the group continues to claim responsibility for hacking the AP, according to FBI reports.

The SEA targets media outlets it considers sympathetic to Syria's rebels. The group admits to sabotaging the Twitter feeds of Al-Jazeera English and the BBC. But with today's revelation from CNN -- despite desperate protests from the SEA -- investigators completely ruled out the Syrian hacking collective as the culprits behind the erroneous White House tweet.

Yet, CNN rejects accusations that any of its employees purposefully attacked the AP Twitter account, or that its reporting of the White House bombings was, in its professional judgment at the time, untrue.

A statement from CNN's public relations department described the "misunderstanding" as an attempt to keep "the public informed of critical developments related to -- or potentially related to -- the tragic events that occurred in Boston, and the need for responsible journalism, up-to-the-minute news coverage and ongoing updates to make sense of our lives in a ghastly new world of inevitable and inescapable terror. This is the dreadful century in which we live and shall ultimately die. God has abandoned us, there is no hope."

Like many newspapers and broadcasters, CNN had once been a contributing AP member. In June 2010, however, the pioneering cable network announced that it would be dropping its participation in and subscription to AP content, rekindling its former relationship with Reuters.

With Reuters' cost increases over the past three years, CNN decided to switch back to the AP. But it couldn't afford to sacrifice precious time with bureaucratic legal processes and contracts.

"With the constant stream of developments coming out of Boston, we couldn't waste precious moments dealing with all the rigamarole of renewing our business relationship with the AP, so we just accessed their Twitter feed to start posting content for them," explained Skip Peddingdutt, a business development executive with the cable network.

"We believed the AP would see the tweet as evidence of our departure from Reuters," Peddingdutt added.

As for the tweet's controversial content, Peddingdutt swore the story was not a prank. He said the information came from several CNN sources via social media, referencing comments made last week by Ed Calloway, a CNN editor involved in the Boston bombing coverage.

"CNN continues to be a popular and incredibly cost effective news leader because most of our stories come from people outside the journalism bubble -- those actually living on the streets where these things go down," Calloway said.

This business model allows CNN to hire less expensive actors instead of pricey, academically trained news anchors, because reading comments from Twitter and summarizing YouTube footage requires no special training or experience.

Calloway emphasized that this approach also endows CNN with "the largest network of roving reporters in the nation -- possibly the world."

Peddingdutt and Calloway confirmed that details of the false White House attack piece were submitted by multiple sources and independently vetted by CNN staff.

"Our sources submit their observations or file their stories through Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, SMS texts and even email," Calloway noted, describing the CNN news gathering process.

"But you can't just trust everything someone says, so as trained journalists we seek out alternate sources to independently validate the accuracy of the information," he said.

Issues of confidentiality and anonymity prevented Calloway from sharing sensitive materials, but he did divulge what he called "representative" items from a few regular sources.

Twitter user and frequent CNN contributor @RedStatesman43 tweeted: "White House explodes after Obama says friendly w/ Bush. Boom goes the dynamite!"

Around that same time, a D.C. based CNN music contributor, @NinjaPirateKat, tweeted: "White House tour -- da bomb! Saw prez too. Looking so damn sick, dude."

And prominent Republicans John Boehner and Eric Cantor issued ominous tweets about Obama suspending flights, which often implies a preemptive response to terrorist threats.

House Majority Leader Cantor (R-Va.) seemed confused and worried: "Why is President Obama unnecessarily delaying your flight?"

House Speaker Boehner (R-Ohio) created further cause for alarm after tweeting about a "disruptive" scene for travelers, preceded by the hashtag #ObamaFlightDelays.

2013. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License. See disclaimers.