Each of the broadcast news media try to be the first to report a new story and the term "breaking news" is used ad nauseam. To make matters worse, the broadcast media will bring in anyone who it thinks has some type of expertise and can add credibility to a point of view.
We all experienced that when the Malaysian Boeing 777 disappeared during its flight to China. We were told it changed course, that it landed in an abandoned airfield, that it crashed into the ocean and countless other scenarios. Retired pilots of that type of aircraft offered opinions of what they thought could have happened. Experts on where and how the tracking devises were located aboard the aircraft also had their time on camera. Terrorism was discussed as another option and the possibility that the pilot tried to commit suicide also saw some coverage. This went on for weeks and as of today, we still have no clue as to what really happened.
In the past the broadcast media could take a break; but with 24-hour news coverage today, it must fill the air time.
The military is not exempt from this phenomenon, especially in combat. When a firefight starts, higher headquarters immediately wants to know the status of the battle and more often than not, the local commander has not had enough time to get any information. He is trying to contact units in the fight and see how he can assist with supporting arms as he moves to the sound of the guns. Any delay in these actions merely adds to the confusion of the situation and increases casualties. Effective commanders give subordinate unit commanders time to assess the situation before demanding information. Another aspect also enters when higher headquarters demand answers before facts are known. That relates to "Nothing is ever as good or as bad as initially reported." One unit could be hard-hit and when that is reported, it could cause headquarters to think that all of the units were hard hit and act accordingly.
On Wednesday there was another shooting at Fort Hood in Texas. The media had no idea how many shooters were involved or how many casualties had occurred, but that did not stop them from speculating. The earlier shooting at Fort Hood was referenced frequently as a means to fill time. Local police and others were interviewed, but they also knew nothing. They even had a soldier call from his barracks and he reported that he heard sirens, but could see nothing. We eventually will find out what happened, but it would be great if the media merely would announce that there was a shooting at Fort Hood and there is no other information available at this time. We will report as soon as information becomes available. I realize that this will not happen because each network is afraid that its competition might get the news first.
In the military the really good commanders train their subordinates so that they know they will be given sufficient time to get a decent handle on a situation before they are called for information. The subordinate commanders appreciate this and go out of their way to keep higher headquarters informed as rapidly as possible. It works. I believe that this could also work with the broadcast media, and I also believe that the viewing audience would appreciate it and show that approval by which station it watches.
Donald Myers is a retired Marine Colonel and regular contributor to Hernando Today. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.