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Managing Misinformation in the Media

This information is for historic and reference purposes only.  Content has not been updated since the last reviewed date at the bottom of this page.
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The media have a good record of getting facts correct during a crisis, but occasionally they get their information wrong. Unfortunately, these mistakes may be harmful to the public or undermine your organization’s credibility. While media rumors, myths, and errors in press reports are usually self-correcting, sometimes the correction doesn’t happen fast enough. The following steps can help speed up corrections:

1.   Remain calm.

Remember that you are representing your agency or organization. Reacting negatively will reflect poorly on your organization and detract from your mission of communicating accurate health information to the public.

2.   Analyze the situation.

Take time to reflect on the following questions:

  • What is your relationship with the reporter and media outlet?
  • Did the news report attempt to express both sides of the issue?
  • Was there truly an inaccuracy, or did the reporter simply present the facts with a negative slant?
  • Is the news report true even though it may be negative?

3.   Know what to request.

Decide on your options to resolve the misinformation, and consider your ideal and minimal solutions. Potential options include:

  • Ask for a retraction or correction, and that a correction note be placed in the permanent record.
  • Ask for another piece to air that presents your perspective on the issue.
  • Ask that a letter to the editor or guest editorial be printed.

4.   Know whom to contact.

Follow the chain of command when contacting the media to respond to an article or broadcast piece. Talk to the reporter first. If the reporter can’t be convinced, ask to speak with the news editor or producer. If all else fails, consider reaching out to another media outlet or alternative channels, such as the web or a public forum, to set the record straight.

5.   Know what you want to communicate.

When you decide to counter misinformation, focus on promoting positive health messages to the public.

6.   Have a plan before you need it.

Build relationships with the media at every opportunity, and let them know that you are a potential source for information in the future.

Like you, reporters have a job to do. Providing the media with regular, reliable information can help them and your organization, too. After all, media outlets are an important link for sharing public health communications.

For more resources and information on CERC, please see Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication, 2014 Edition or Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication Pandemic Influenza, 2007.

Have you used CERC in your work? To share your CERC stories, e-mail cercrequest@cdc.gov. Your stories may appear in future CERC Corners.

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