CNN on Wednesday backtracked after badly botching a report that a “dark-skinned male” had been arrested in connection with the Monday bombings of the Boston Marathon.
At around 1 p.m. ET, CNN’s John King came on the air to say that “law enforcement sources” had told him that a suspect had been identified based on surveillance video taken from a Boston Lord & Taylor department store.
“I was told they have a breakthrough in the identification of the suspect, and I’m told — and I want to be very careful about this because people get very sensitive when you say these things — I was told by one of these sources who’s a law enforcement official that this was a dark-skinned male,” King reported. “The official used some other words, I’m going to repeat them until we get more information because of the sensitivities. There are some people who will take offense even in saying that.”
“I’m making a personal judgment — forgive me — and I think it’s the right judgment not to try to inflame tensions,” he added.
By 1:45 p.m. ET, King was reporting that “an arrest has been made.”
“So, the suspect that was identified has now been arrested?” CNN host Wolf Blitzer asked.
“We would assume that,” King replied. “I’ve just been told an arrest has been made.”
CNN’s Fran Townsend — who was a former Homeland Security Advisor to President George W. Bush — backed up King’s report with her own sources.
“What was perfectly clear to me, according to this official, an arrest has been made,” Townsend said.
But within 45 minutes, Townsend was back on the air, explaining that there had been a “misunderstanding.”
“There’s not somebody in custody or arrested,” she stuttered. “The situation is very fluid… There was a misunderstanding. That was said to me, not so much that we had misunderstood, but that there has been a misunderstanding and lots of cross communication.”
King later returned to say an official had told him that “anyone who says an arrest [has been made] is ahead of themselves.”
And if other media reports are correct, even King’s initial description of the suspect as a “dark-skinned male” may have been wrong.
CBS News noted on Wednesday that the “man sought as a possible suspect is a white male, wearing white baseball cap on backwards, a gray hoodie and a black jacket.”
In a statement to The Huffington Post, CNN explained that the network had reported the arrest based on “three credible sources on both local and federal levels.”
“As soon as our sources came to us with new information we adjusted our reporting,” the statement said.
Watch to the video below from CNN, broadcast April 17, 2013.