In an October 2 dispatch, The Associated Press promoted the terror group ISIS’ claim that it was responsible for a mass shooting in Las Vegas that left more than 50 dead and 500 others injured, even though the AP acknowledged ISIS provided no evidence to support the assertion. Other outlets rushed to parrot the AP’s report over the next few hours, until the FBI stated the shooter has no connection to ISIS or any other terrorist group.
A 10:15 a.m. EST dispatch from the AP’s Cairo, Egypt, bureau carried the headline “Islamic State Claims Las Vegas Attack” followed by a single sentence noting that ISIS provided “no evidence” to support its claim. Moments later, a corresponding tweet from the AP reiterated the claims:
BREAKING: Without providing evidence, Islamic State claims Las Vegas attack, says shooter converted to Islam months ago.
— The Associated Press (@AP) October 2, 2017
Following the AP’s lead, Newsweek and the New York Post ran with the same misleading headline, providing varying degrees of clarification demonstrating that the claim of ISIS involvement was completely unsubstantiated. Bloomberg reposted the AP report with no alterations, while Time amended the headline to reflect that ISIS “didn’t give any proof” to support its claim. Just a few minutes after the AP flash, Fox News correspondent John Roberts also promoted the claim, speculating about how ISIS involvement, if confirmed, might change the tone of President Donald Trump’s response to the incident. Roughly one hour after AP pushed the story, NBC News legal analyst Pete Williams also discussed the unsubstantiated link to ISIS on MSNBC, but stressed that federal law enforcement and intelligence sources he has spoken with “have absolutely no reason to believe” the supposed link “is true”:
At a press conference at roughly 11:45 a.m. EST, Aaron Rouse, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s field office in Las Vegas, said that federal officials have found “no connection to an international terrorist group.”
After a series of extensive updates, the AP article now mentions that ISIS “often claims attacks by individuals inspired by its message but with no known links to the group.” A similarly styled report from CBS News also reflects, after several updates, that the Las Vegas gunman demonstrated “no early signs of any ties to radical Islamic groups or signs of radicalization,” and notes that ISIS “offered no proof of a link with” the gunman.
In a series of tweets shortly after the AP published its initial report, CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank explained that ISIS is a notoriously unreliable source of information and noted that it has a history of claiming a connection to unrelated shootings and attacks. Rather than simply running with ISIS’ self-aggrandizing propaganda for the sake of adding new angles to developing stories, news outlets should refrain from publishing until all the facts are in.