Reuters falsely reported yesterday that US allies had launched a military operation intended to free 21 South Korean hostages being held by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Several major news outlets picked up the wire report, including CNN, Fox News, and ABC, leading to erroneous on-air statements on each network. A few hours after releasing the inaccurate information, Reuters retracted the story. According to a spokesman for the news agency, the misstep had occurred because of “a miscommunication between correspondents.” Meanwhile, both the United States and South Korean governments continue to insist that military action has been ruled out as an option to save the hostages. This story raises several journalistic ethics issues. What if the story had been accurate, and the initial reports had in some way aided the enemy in staving off the rescue mission? What if the Taliban had gotten wind of the false report and executed the hostages? It seems like reporting on an impending military operation in real-time can be a very dangerous business if handled improperly–even when all the facts are correct, which was not even the case in this instance.
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