Chicago TV station admits mistakes in airing misleading interview with 4-year-old boy

Al Tompkins by Al Tompkins Published  July 29, 2011 12:30 pm 

A Chicago TV station now says it made two ethical mistakes when it aired an interview with a 4-year-old boy last month.

The first mistake was interviewing a child at a crime scene. But things grew even worse when the station edited the boy’s interview in a way that made it seem as though the African American child idolized guns and criminals.

In fact, the child told the photographer that he wanted to be a police officer. The station edited out that part of the interview.

This 4-year-old boy was interviewed on-camera by WBBM as part of a story about teen shootings.

A story published last week on the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education’s website first raised questions about the interview. Dori J. Maynard, president of the Institute, said, “We have long been worried about the ways in which the media helps perpetuate negative stereotypes of boys and men of color, but this appears to be overtly criminalizing a preschooler.”

On Thursday, WBBM Vice President and News Director Jeff Kiernan told me via e-mail, “The airing of the 4-year-old’s soundbite was a mistake, and the writing and the editing of the soundbite was a mistake.” He added, “WBBM-TV takes responsibility for the story. It was wrong to air the story in the first place.”

Read more about what was on the video and my recommended guidelines for interviewing children and other vulnerable people.


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