(Editor's note: This post was updated Sunday morning 1.9.11. Hat tip to Andy Carvin for pointing out two errors in the post. I have posted his tweet in the comment section. Thanks, Andy!)
No one seems to have bothered to check with the emergency room where the Congresswoman was taken. This is lazy reporting of the first order. Yes, the Sheriff's office and Giffords's congressional office are credible sources, but the deputy, dispatcher or staffer who "confirmed" it was clearly not with the Congresswoman on the way to the hospital, thus a second hand source.
Other media pounced on those reports and issued their own breaking news reports, citing the other media outlets as sources. Twitter bristled with thousands of re-tweets of those breaking news alerts. A great look at how the story unfolded is on Andy Carvin's Storify blog.
This isn't the first time (nor will it be the last) that media has reported a death only to be proven wrong by the victim's survival. Craig Silverman wrote an entire book about media errors and has a nice website called Regret the Error.
NPR did apologize for getting the story wrong, although by that time damage had been done and the incorrect information circled the globe multiple times. In the most ironic post of the day, one of NPR's bloggers, Ken Rudin wrote a post about how, in the absence of information, speculation does no one any good. Really? How would you know? Where were you when your colleagues were getting it wrong?
I suppose it's too much to ask to have editors and producers insist on first-hand information. There's too much money at stake in page views, re-tweets and advertising. It seems the only way to keep things in perspective is to realize that today, journalists are telling us what they heard, not what's true.