Misconduct Is Only News When Journalists Say It Is

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28 Responses

  1. Stephen says:

    Good article. But it could use more squirrels.

    -a devoted Twit

  2. adam says:

    i agree wholeheartedly. that said, if the prosecution was indeed behind the leak and had Winter rebuffed their efforts, they would almost certainly have found another reporter with less scrupulous morals to whom leak said information.

    additionally, if the prosecution is behind the leak, who's to say that Winter was the first person that they approached? maybe the other reporters they approached first said "no."

    i live in the Denver metro area and there is an obscene push for blood. that the guy is guilty does not really seem to be the issue, rather, the people's insatiable need for "justice," by any means necessary.

  3. Lynn Grant says:

    When I was in Journalism school, they had us watch "Absence of Malice", where accidental-on-purpose leaks are used by the prosecution, and not only cause an innocent death, but also come back to bite the prosecutors and the journalist involved. I hope they are still showing it in J-school these days.

  4. Dan Weber says:

    I share your feelings about leaks.

    They are necessary, yet.

    Journalists feel their field is the most important in the world: if the government leaks, journalists are free to use it, and it's someone else's problem to figure out how to deal with the leaks.

    Of course, every profession feels like this. Lawyers think the law is most important. Businesspeople think business is most important. Biologists think biology is most important. Poets think poetry is most important. Computer scientists think their ideas are the most important. Economists think the economy is the most important.

    Just like war is too important to leave to generals, I sometimes worry that journalist is too important to leave to journalists.

  5. jon says:

    The short media cycle and consolidation of the "old media" has made the "old media" extremely dependent on relationships with sources and recycling their press releases. I think most real "investigative journalism" these days can be found in the new media and in blogs. Unfortunately, so is most of the worst crap. Whats really needed is a great crap filter.

  6. Mister D says:

    The issue which I believe the article talks about, and reporters should follow up – is this a "leak" or a whistle-blowing action? A person passing material to make a point despite the threat to their job and freedom (or even their life) is vastly different than a propaganda piece orchestrated by agents of the government, acting in their official capacity and in furtherance of the government's agenda.

    The law should spport whistleblowers, not civil servants pretending to be whistleblowers.

  7. Tom Z. says:

    "Good article. But it could use more squirrels."

    All local squirrels are undergoing therapy sessions from their recent encounters with Ken and are unavailable for guest appearances.

  8. George William Herbert says:

    It does not usually rise to the level of "orchestrated by agents of the prosecution" per se; police and crime reporters often have an incestuous relationship. The prosecution will often have a cleaner case if there are no leaks, even if it starts to turn the public against the defendant. If there are shaky witness IDs then leaks can be used to further discredit them, etc.

    Not to say that prosecutors never would, but it often is well underway before a prosecutor arrives.

  9. Tom Z. says:

    Ken, my main problem with the analysis above is that you do not question the reporter's claim that the materials came 'from a law enforcement source'.

    Your own example of the perp walk makes it clear that reporters will routinely engage in less-than-truthfulness if it will make their jobs easier or improve ratings/circulation.

    So the story many not be that the reporter didn't investigate the motivation of the law-enforcement leak. Rather it could be the story of how the reporter took active actions, despite their claim of confidentiality, to misdirect the court on the identity of the leaker.

  10. the other alan says:

    there was a case a while back where a suspect was walked in and out of a police station for the sole purpose of walking him before a group of reporters. A subsequent hearing found the suspects rights were violated, though I don't recall what, if any, penalty was given.
    The most egregious leak case I recall was anthrax investigation of Steven Hatfill. It was discovered the lead FBI investigator in the case was regularly leaking information to the press. To Ken's point, while the Justice Department settled with Hatfill for almost $6 million, and the agent was suspended, little discussion occurred regarding the press's role in using illegal leaks to harass – nearly to the point of suicide – someone who turned out to be completely innocent.

  11. ShelbyC says:

    The fox news article seems a little biased in favor of shield laws. Go figure. Another strike against special rights for journalists.

  12. Billy V says:

    Why doesn't the judge throw the journal out unless the govt comes forward with the person who leaked the evidence? You can believe that all of a sudden an internal investigation will start and she may even be persuaded by the govt to reveal the source so that they can handle it.

    I mean she said it was the govt that leaked the docs.

  13. Tom Z. says:

    "Why doesn't the judge throw the journal out unless the govt comes forward with the person who leaked the evidence?"

    Because misconduct by an unnamed party who may or may not be a member of the prosecution has nothing to do with the guilt or innocence of the defendant.

    Violation of the gag order is a reason for the leaker to be punished, not a reason for the murderer to go free.

  14. htom says:

    Oh, I think it can have a great deal to do with a conviction — which is (sadly) very different than having done the deed or not.

  15. xbradtc says:

    At least a reporter was doing more than journalism-by-press-release, where they simply parrot whatever the DA/LEO folks say.

  16. ShelbyC says:

    @xbradtc, how so?

  17. Billy V says:

    @Tom see I disagree this came from a "law enforcement source" and the LEO's have a great deal to do with this case, as with any criminal case. To argue that they are an unnamed party is incorrect, she identified that it was a LEO already. If it was not she needs to come out and say who it was.

    While I do not want to see him go free, I at the same time do not think that we need to allow illegal activity committed by LEO's just go because of the crime the defendant committed.

  18. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    Some thoughts;

    1) If we could kill, dead, the idiotic idea that ANY journalism is in any way free of bias a lot of the edge of this situation would dissolve. Of course the reporter has an axe to grind. All reporters have an axe to grind, all the time. It may be a small axe, and it may not change how wee view the story, but all reporting is informed by the reporter's worldview.

    2) Yes, the leak should be investigated. If there is a law on the books shielding reporters who won't name their sources, then we can't lean on the reporter. Fine. Either accept that, or work to change the law. IF that is the legal situation, then those who are threatening the reporter should be punished. But investigate the leak as much as possible, and if it develops that a prosecutor arranged the leak to influence the case, then he should at a minimum be fired.

  19. JR says:

    Many journalists either don't bother making the effort. Many times the only reward for doing a good job is self-satisfaction, which takes a distant second to profit for the average worker of any profession.

    I'll stick to reading the blogs obsessive people in a position to know the inner workings of a subject and apply critical thinking to form my own position.

  20. I wish you all the luck in the world tilting at this particular windmill.

    I have a friend who's a reporter who, in the middle of a contentious local election cycle, got a convenient leak about possible misdemeanor criminal conduct by an anti-mafia political figure in their town. I asked the reporter, privately and off the record, who the leak came from – the source was, in fact, a prominent mafia lawyer. I asked my reporter friend if it EVER occurred to them that they were being used by the mafia to derail an anti-mafia investigation and — I swear before all holy gods — my reporter friend's answer was, "Why would they do that?" The reporter's mindset was that the allegation was apparently true, and therefore news, and where it came from and why it was leaked was immaterial.

  21. Dan Weber says:

    Violation of the gag order is a reason for the leaker to be punished, not a reason for the murderer to go free.

    We hold the cops liable for illegally gathering evidence. If they illegally find evidence that a guy is guilty, we don't say "well, let's punish the cop, and then use the evidence."

    I don't think this would work for leaking, because as suggested the defense could also leak. But there's something to be said for the fact that making cops misbehavior lead to suspect's release causes the cops to really really really care.

  22. George B says:

    Wasn't there a case several years back where two NYPD detectives staged a perp-walk for the press, and went down for it?

    {Wish I could recall more details….}

  23. Michael says:

    As a journalist I just want to say, this incident is a Very Bad Thing. I don't think any of our staff photographers would even consider doing this, and we work for a smaller paper with a daily circulation of 14,000. This is a violation of journalistic conduct.

  24. Steve Florman says:

    I think you're saying something about Jana Winter's conduct, here, but I'm damned if I can figure out what. Should she have coughed up the source, to expose the leak, or not?

  25. Jim Kimmons says:

    I think we need a new word for the vast majority of them. Instead of journalist, I think "opinionist." Whether it's theirs or their bosses, most of it now is more opinion than news.

  26. Ray says:

    Here in the UK broadcast news is still largely driven by press releases Perp walks and prosecution leaks are few and far between. Newspapers however have been found . Such a corrosive arrangement couldn't possibly exist in the US as it is obviously a result of poor oral hygiene and rampant pony worship in this sceptred isle.

  1. April 9, 2013

    […] Ken @ Popehat and "Gideon" at his blog have posts on the position reporter Jana Winter finds herself […]

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