CNN’s coverage last week of President Obama’s trip to Kenya sparked some controversy when a report referred the Kenya as a “hotbed of terror.” According to Poynter, complaints on Twitter and the hashtag #SomeoneTellCNN, led to a change in the headline and lead of the article. The edited version implies that the region is under a terror threat, instead of only focusing on Kenya.
This article raises a few ethical question regarding transparency, accountability and truth. First, with seeking to tell the truth CNN based its report on terror threats in the region on apparent U.S. air attacks and information from defense officials. My first question is where is the information about these air attacks, which “may be timed to the President’s visit,” according to the CNN report, coming from. Is this just speculation or coming from a real source? The article, quoting defense officials, isn’t very clear.
The article is prefaced by a brief editor’s note, explaining the changes to the headline and lead. It’s obvious with the public response that the article struck a nerve. It seems like CNN made a strong judgement about a country, and a region, by labeling it a “hotbed of terror.” Even that language is strong. The note from the editor is one way that CNN is being accountable and transparent about the report, and the changes made, but does it go far enough?
Lastly, I wonder if there were any concerns raised about this article appearing before the President’s visit? Could it lead any potential risks to Obama during his visit? The article also says that “U.S. officials do not believe Al-Shabaab can get anywhere near the President, but there are others reasons to worry.” Before publishing information like this, should a discussion of the President’s safety take place at CNN? Can the argument be made for not publishing this report, or is informing the public more important?