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Reporter Thought Earplugs Were Rubber Bullets. Does It Matter?

Other journalists told him it was no big deal. But it’s the kind of error that destroys credibility. And the Ferguson story demands attention to detail.

Among the media covering the aftermath of the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, is one Ryan J. Reilly, whose title is “Justice Reporter” for Huffington Post Politics. He was previously at Talking Points Memo.

On Sunday morning, he tweeted out the following:


That tweet, which of course showed ear plugs, has been enjoyed by many people, as you can see with the retweets and favorites. Many folks made fun of it:




Now, Reilly tweeted out that he was in error as the responses from his followers flowed in. Other media professionals, such as the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart, reassured him that there was nothing wrong with what he’d said:


Again, Reilly realized he’d messed up and even said something about how he felt it had been a “boneheaded” tweet. I in no way want to beat up on a guy who was working a late night under tremendously difficult situations. We should all remember to be forbearing under such circumstances.

And yet there is something to this tweet from Clarion-Ledger reporter and Reuters stringer Therese Apel:


The thing about not knowing that earplugs are not rubber bullets is that it makes it really hard to take any other reporting about police tactics, much less guns, seriously. It’s one of those unfortunately boneheaded errors that destroys credibility. Heck, it makes me wonder if Reilly has never been to either a gun range or a concert, where such earplugs are commonly found.

Many Americans are interested in everything happening in Ferguson. We want to know facts about the shooting, facts about the community response to the shooting, facts about the riots and vandalism that took place, facts about the militaristic response of police units. We need to be able to trust the media to report on the facts of the case. Being on the ground is important, but so is getting the facts right and getting the facts out without too much sensationalism or agenda-driving.

So I’m not sure I agree with the Post’s Capeheart that confusing earplugs with rubber bullets is no big deal or that such confusion is “what we do” as journalists. Asking questions is certainly important. But knowing the basics about what we cover is important, too.

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