UPDATE: TV station pulls report but fails to apologize & explain why it aired bogus story about smiling EMS crew

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UPDATE (Saturday night)

WJBK-TV aired its new story tonight (Saturday) revisiting Wednesday’s report with the headline “Paramedics pose for photo at crash scene”. I was hoping the removal earlier Saturday of the original story from the station’s website was an indication management decided to come clean about a completely made up story. I was wrong. It didn’t happen that way.

What the station did instead is paint the reporter & the young man in the collision as the victims in this situation.  I am starting to think if you are as astounded as I am by this development we should all nicely let the TV station management know how we feel (see contact info above).

In round two, reporter Andrea Isom re-tells the story (above) but this time puts emphasis on the statements she had in the initial coverage from Wayne-Westland Fire Authority Deputy Chief Patrick Harder saying no one was smiling or posing. Isom also features the tweets that were available on Thursday from the woman who took the picture. That woman, as we already shared with you, confirmed that Chief Harder is correct and crash victim Jake Glover’s impression of the picture is absolutely wrong.

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Previous coverage of this story

But there are a lot of things missing from Isom’s latest story. Let me give you a list:

  • There’s no explanation why the story aired in the first place despite a lack of corroboration of Glover’s claim about something he admitted he didn’t even remember happening
  • There’s no explanation why the story was broadcast before the station talked with the woman who took the picture
  • There’s no explanation why the headline of the web story stated it was fact the EMS crew posed for the picture when it was actually only someone’s opinion from seeing a picture
  • There’s no explanation why the unusual step was taken of removing the original story from the station’s website.
  • There’s no apology for maligning the reputation of the EMS crew and the Wayne-Westland Fire Authority

But here’s what Andrea Isom did say in the on-camera tag to her report:

A friend says Jake, like me, has been hurt by some of the very cruel and hurtful statements made on social media. To be clear, I have and will always have respect for all first responders. Your job is a tough one. And hats off to every single one of you for taking it on. I’m Andrea Isom, Fox2 News.

So, after Mr. Glover and Ms. Isom teamed up to give us a reckless story that makes false claims about the actions of two public servants, we are to feel sorry for them because of some “hurtful” comments on Facebook and Twitter? Really?

Ms. Isom, you tell us you “have respect for all first responders”. If you and station management really did have that respect, you’d come clean about what actually occurred and publicly apologize. Don’t insult them further by more half-assed reporting that doesn’t really explain what happened.

Since you won’t provide those explanations to your audience let me try. On Wednesday you were assigned a story based on a tip from Jake Glover, one of his friends or someone else. In reporting the story you attempted to do the right thing and tried to contact the only credible eyewitness, the woman who took the picture. But you failed to reach her by deadline.

This left you with two choices. One was to insist to your producers this story would be irresponsible to broadcast without getting some facts about what actually happened. The other was to roll the dice, air it and hope the woman who shot the picture agreed with the biased interpretation of the image provided by the victim and his friends, all who had no first-hand knowledge of what occurred. You made the wrong choice and then doubled down with your follow-up report.

Ms. Isom, you can talk all you want about respecting “first responders” but it’s actions that are important. I don’t claim to speak for anyone in public safety, but my experience is if you want their respect in return, do your job as a reporter by being both accurate and fair. When you screw up, don’t BS them and try to make yourself the victim. Come clean, apologize and work to do a better job in the future.

MI Wayne Westland smiling incident

EARLIER (Saturday afternoon)

Ladies and gentlemen, it looks like you’ve been heard. WJBK-TV in Detroit has removed its web story from Wednesday that claimed a still picture shot by a bystander shows an EMS crew from Wayne-Westland Fire Authority smiling and posing with a wrecked pick-up truck with the injured driver still inside. When you now click the link for the story you receive a message that says in part, “Our Apologies. The page you requested is currently unavailable.”

Many of you let the station know in comments and on Twitter that this was a bogus story. There were almost 200 comments with the story on the TV station’s website. We don’t know if Wayne-Westland Fire Authority also lodged complaints with the station. WJBK-TV did acknowledge in a tweet today (see below) the “tremendous amount of feedback on this story”.

As STATter911 pointed out on Thursday, there was absolutely nothing to back up the impression of the victim and his friends that either member of the EMS crew was smiling, much less posing. The victim himself admits he remembers nothing until he was in the ambulance. There was no series of pictures, no video and no accounts from eyewitnesses.

In fact, the only eyewitness we are aware of is the woman who took the picture and posted it on Twitter. That woman, @Melanie92474, indicated she initially comforted the crash victim, Jake Glover, before fire and EMS arrived. We discovered late on Thursday that Melanie had tweeted both Glover and the WJBK-TV reporter, Andrea Isom, that they were absolutely wrong in their impression about what had occurred.

MI Wayne Westland smiling incident 3

Today (Saturday) the TV station tweeted Melanie and indicates they are producing a re-do of this story:

MI Wayne Westland smiling incident 4

Both during my time as a reporter and in this post-TV career I’ve told people when you are complaining about news coverage make sure it isn’t just because your ego has been bruised by a story that is essentially true. Base your complaints on the facts, ethics and fairness. In this case the TV station failed on all three counts. It’s heartening to know station management has recognized that significant errors were made and now seems poised to correct them.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to FireCritic.com, Firefighters Worldwide.com, IONTB.com, NYC EMS Website, NJ Fire Chat, Tailboard Training, Into The Smoke, Reimer & Karlson LLC, Firehouse of Ohio (sorry if I missed anyone) and many, many individuals who shared and re-tweeted our story.

Full disclosure: In addition to what I publicly posted on STATter911, Twitter, Facebook and the comments section of this story on the WJBK-TV website, I sent an email directly to news director Kevin Roseborough on Friday complaining about this story. I did not receive a reply and have no indication it had any impact(which is fine with me as long as the story is corrected). Here is that email:

Mr. Roseborough, 

The story your station ran this week claiming two paramedics were smiling and posing for a picture instead of aiding a car crash victim should never have made air or been posted on the web. It was thinly sourced and didn’t meet even the lowest of journalistic standards. Having spent 38 years in TV and radio news, with 25 of them as a reporter for WUSA-TV in Washington, I’m not only astounded management approved this story but no one in a supervisory role is insisting it be immediately corrected and an apology issued. 

It’s outrageous a news operation would base a story solely on an image showing 1/125 of a second of an event with no other corroboration. The picture itself really shows nothing. I’m not certain the one medic is even smiling, are you? And the claim anyone can see the second medic smiling is absurd. No wonder the public trust in journalists is at such a low point. 

Your TV station has maligned the reputation of two public servants and the organization they represent without a shred of evidence there was any wrongdoing.

Even the person who took the picture, and is apparently the only eyewitness to the event your staff has been in contact with, has publicly, via Twitter, said your story and the claims of the victim are all wrong. 

I have no personal involvement with anyone in this incident. The story was sent to me because I publish a fire and EMS website and the person who forwarded it thought it was shocking that an EMS crew would do such an awful thing. As someone who has been critical in the past of public safety personnel using poor judgment by posing for pictures at emergency scenes, I fully expected that I would join in the criticism of this crew. But I immediately realized this was a case of a reporter being assigned a story that didn’t pan out, but was broadcast anyway. 

Through my website and in talks around the country I teach media relations to those in EMS and the fire service. I plan to add this story as an example of the news media failing to properly do its job and sensationalizing something that didn’t even occur. It would be nice to be able to report that in the end those in charge did the right thing by clearly correcting the record and apologizing to those involved. They deserve nothing less. 

I look forward to reading your response. 

Dave Statter