Apple's stock fell on a false rumor…who should get punished?

So some guy posted on the CNN “citizen journalist” site (which if I remember correctly became a big thing after hurricane Katrina in 2005) that Steve Jobs had a heart attack. Some folks who have Apple stock read that and panicked, causing a big, temporary dip in Apple’s stock price. When the report was denied by Apple, the stock rebounded.

This weekend, I’ve been reading a lot about how the SEC is trying to track down the guy who did it. All fingers are pointing at him, and if he’s caught having shorted Apple stock, he’s going to go to jail. Yes, he deserves that.

But I have to wonder how much of the blame is with CNN, and if the SEC is going to hold the news giant accountable for any of this?

If a uniformed fireman walks into a crowded theatre and yells “Fire!” people are going to run and not ask any questions. If I walked into a crowded theatre and yelled “Fire!” dressed in my everyday clothes, yes some would run anyway. But I have to think that a few would sit for a few moments and wonder, “Why is that strange woman yelling fire? Where’s the fire? Is she kidding?” In the time it took for them to question my credibility, the truth would be revealed or more folks would be yelling fire too. If a fireman gave me a uniform to play dress-up, and I used it to yell “Fire!” in a theatre, yes I’d be in trouble for causing the chaos. But that fireman would also be at fault for irresponsibly violating the trust that the uniform represents by giving it away haphazardly. has earned a reputation as a go-to news source. Want to see if a Twittered rumor is real? Wait to see if CNN posts it. With that level of earned credibility comes responsibility, and they blew it. It doesn’t matter how many disclaimers are on the iReport site that the news is not filtered or edited. It doesn’t matter how easy or difficult it is to post a report. It’s still CNN. Had the rumor been posted at your average Mac rumor site, even one with high traffic that gets a lot of viral attention, I don’t think it wouldn’t have affected Apple’s stock price the way it did. Was there a reasonable expectation that the report was true simply because it was there on a CNN-owned site? Maybe.

iReport is a great idea. But CNN either has to own it and make sure it keeps the parent brand credible (moderate reports that break news, let everything else go) or they have to completely detach it from the CNN brand and sell it off.