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False rescue report flew at light speed

Even now, Steve Duemig isn't quite sure what happened.

But the longtime sports talk host began his 3 p.m. show Tuesday with an apology, after another personality at his station criticized him for mistakenly reporting the day before that the Coast Guard may have rescued several football players lost in the Gulf of Mexico.

On Monday, after rescuers pulled Nick Schuyler from a capsized boat, Duemig told listeners to his WDAE-AM radio show that an additional man had been found, believed to be former Tampa Bay Buccaneers player Marquis Cooper. He did it based on a text message from a friend the radio host still calls "a really good source."

Within minutes, the host talked about another object in the water, which could be a person. But then he received an alarming text saying, "False report. False report. I can't say any more." So Duemig stopped talking about it.

But Duemig had already joined several local news outlets that reported bad information on Monday about the search for four friends lost since Saturday — bulletins that spread across the Internet, fueled by hope that rescuers would find Schuyler's three companions and intense national interest.

CBS affiliate WTSP-Ch. 10 also briefly reported Cooper had been found Monday, based on information from a member of his family, according to news director Darren Richards. WTSP's report was retracted, but not before it was picked up on several sports blogs.

Listeners and viewers were caught between fluctuating reports on an evolving story, the instant speed of the Internet and the hazy status of sports talk shows, which sometimes turn into breaking news platforms when hosts try passing along information on a news event.

"All along, I was saying, 'These are the reports I'm getting, they're not confirmed,' " Duemig told listeners Tuesday, after WDAE morning personality Ron Diaz criticized his mistake on air that morning. "If anyone got false hope, I deeply, deeply apologize."

Before his show Tuesday, Duemig said he doesn't consider himself a journalist, acknowledging later he sometimes acts like one — passing along tips received from friends and trusted sources on his radio show.

Still, the rush to cover new development remain a challenge: On Tuesday, several outlets, including the St. Petersburg Times, cited a Sarasota Herald Tribune report that police believed a body might have surfaced off Turtle Beach. Officers later determined it was likely a big fish.

False rescue report flew at light speed 03/03/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 3, 2009 10:50pm]
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