Ninth Circuit Harshly Scrutinizes Law Enforcement Leak, Threatens Sanctions Against Department of Justice

What the hell is going on in America?

The federal judiciary — which previously could be counted upon to be relatively complacent in the face of a culture of prosecutorial misconduct — has begun to take notice and harumph and even do something about it. In January a Ninth Circuit panel blasted state prosecutors defending a conviction won with perjury. Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski has started a blunt public and academic discussion of misconduct as a systemic problem. This week the Fifth Circuit cited prosecutorial misconduct — including federal prosecutors commenting on cases online under pseudonyms — in overturning the federal convictions of some murderous New Orleans police officers.

This is a trickle, not a tide. But normally federal judicial recognition of the problem of misconduct is a parched desert; any relief is notable. And in the last two months, judges have even questioned one of law enforcement's most cherished methods of gaming the system — leaks to the press. The situation raises questions not just about government misconduct, but about how the press addresses such misconduct.

[Read more…]

Lawsplainer: Did Gawker Aid and Abet Extortion? Nah.

tl;dr: nah.

Last week Gawker Media published an unusually vile story about an escort's apparent attempt to blackmail a married entertainment executive. In just one post, Gawker outed a man for an alleged same-sex encounter and acted as the willing instrument of blackmail.

Many Internet Lawyers have suggested that Gawker committed extortion, or acted as accessory after the fact to extortion, and that its writers may be criminally liable.

Are they?

Answer: no, probably not.

Assume For the Moment They Aren't Just Credulous Hacks

Let's set aside for the moment the distinct possibility that the whole incident is the invention of an unbalanced conspiracy theorist who duped Gawker through the intricate method of saying something scandalous that reinforced their worldviews.

Let's also assume, for the sake of argument, that the escort's communications to the victim constituted extortion: that at some point he said something like "use your influence to help me with my legal problem or I will reveal to the media that you sought to hire me for sex." Gawker's post containing some of the alleged communications is down, and we can hardly trust Gawker to have reported them completely or accurately.

Did Gawker Commit Extortion? No.

Title 18, United States Code, section 875(d) makes extortion a felony:

Whoever, with intent to extort from any person, firm, association, or corporation, any money or other thing of value, transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to injure the property or reputation of the addressee or of another or the reputation of a deceased person or any threat to accuse the addressee or any other person of a crime, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

Many courts have defined "other thing of value" broadly enough that it can probably include the victim's use of his influence to assist the extortionist in a legal matter.1

The escort may have violated this statute, but Gawker didn't. So far as we know, Gawker and its writers didn't demand anything of value from the victim. Rather, once the extortionist came to them, they printed his story. They carried out the course of action threatened by the extortionist, but they didn't make the threat or demand the thing of value themselves.

Was Gawker an Accessory after the Fact? No.

Title 18, United States Code, section 3 criminalizes being an accessory after the fact. However, that status is narrowly defined to helping people escape:

Whoever, knowing that an offense against the United States has been committed, receives, relieves, comforts or assists the offender in order to hinder or prevent his apprehension, trial or punishment, is an accessory after the fact.

Gawker didn't do that. If anything, publishing the extortionist's story made it more likely he'd be caught.

Did Gawker Conspire To Commit Extortion? No.

I don't think Gawker conspired to commit extortion, either. The elements of federal conspiracy are "1) an agreement to accomplish an illegal objective, 2) coupled with one or more acts in furtherance of the illegal purpose, and 3) the requisite intent necessary to commit the underlying substantive offense." But here the unlawful objective is demanding something of value (an exercise of influence) in exchange for silence. There's no indication that Gawker did that or agreed to it. If Gawker had said "unless you help this guy, we'll publish," that would be conspiracy to commit extortion. But what Gawker did instead was publish the threatened embarrassing information. There's no indication that they attempted to help the extortionist get anything from the victim.

Did Gawker Aid and Abet Extortion? No.

Someone can also be guilty of extortion if they aid or abet it under Title 18, United States Code, Section 2:

(a) Whoever commits an offense against the United States or aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces or procures its commission, is punishable as a principal.
(b) Whoever willfully causes an act to be done which if directly performed by him or another would be an offense against the United States, is punishable as a principal.

The elements of aiding and abetting are:

(1) that the accused had the specific intent to facilitate the commission of a crime by another, (2) that the accused had the requisite intent of the underlying substantive offense, (3) that the accused assisted or participated in the commission of the underlying substantive offense, and (4) that someone committed the underlying substantive offense.

That's not what Gawker did. Gawker didn't intend to help the extortionist get something of value from the victim in exchange for silence. That's the opposite of what Gawker wanted — a lurid story to draw clicks. Gawker lacked specific intent to extort, so didn't aid and abet extortion.

There Oughta Be A Law

You could imagine a law that, like a prohibition of receiving stolen property, makes it illegal to publish embarrassing facts to help an extortionist carry out their threat. But that law would probably run afoul of the First Amendment, like any law that ascribes to a publisher of information the liability of their source.

Gawker and its writers probably didn't violate federal law.2 Whether they have civil liability is a different (and potentially more complicated) question. And, of course, they have moral liability: they're vermin.

Do Judges Have Inherent Dignity?

According to Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Constitution provides all Americans a right to "equal dignity in the eyes of the law."3 That's nice in theory I suppose, but in the America where I grew up dignity had to be earned, and maintained, by correct behavior and continued demonstration of good character. Dignity built up over many years could be thrown away in seconds by one rash or foolish act.

That's just what Judge Mark Mahon, Chief Judge of Florida's Fourth Circuit Court in Jacksonville, is doing to his own dignity. Over the course of a lazy three day weekend, Judge Mahon beclowned himself and disgraced his office. He did so by subverting the United States Constitution, which he is sworn to uphold and protect, in a vain attempt to protect that now vanished dignity.

Here's the story.

[Read more…]

Media Coverage Of The Reason Debacle

Ken's post of Monday on the overreaching attempt by the Department of Justice, and Manhattan United States Attorney Preet Bhahara, to subpoena the identities of commenters at Reason for silly rhetoric concerning a federal judge, has gotten some traction in the tech and legal blogospheres, and bit of mainstream coverage. Why the political media at large aren't covering this to a greater extent is a question we can't answer, but it's surprising, given that Reason is one of their own. Perhaps they figure that they've got their running shoes on, and they're happy the bear is going after someone else.

Nonetheless, we'd be remiss in failing to point out that a number of voices have been raised in Reason's defense, or at least covered the situation. For those who are following this issue, here's a by no means inclusive list of journalists and bloggers who've covered the story.

Editorial Board – New York Post. (Preet Bhahara's off-base strike at internet trolls.)

Virginia Postrel – Bloomberg View.

Scott Greenfield – Simple Justice.

Glenn Reynolds – Instapundit.

Charles C. W. Cooke – National Review (and on Mr. Cooke's worthy podcast, Mad Dogs & Englishmen.)

Ilya Somin – Volokh Conspiracy.

Russia Today. (Yes, Russia Today. Because Vladimir Putin is all about free press and free speech.)

Andy Greenberg – Slate and Wired.  (I should add that Mr. Greenberg reacted very graciously to my angrily pointing out that he'd incorrectly stated the law, and updated an early version of the story.)

Charlotte Allen – Independent Womens Forum.

Damon Linker – The Week.

Barnini Chakraborty – Fox News.

Jazz Shaw – Hot Air.  (A pro-prosecution take to the effect that some terrorists may actually own deadly woodchippers.)

Ed Morrissey – Hot Air. (A dissenting view, more concerned with the threat to free speech than the threat of woodchippers.)

"Ace" – Ace of Spades HQ. (Who points out that the beast can be trained to attack in other directions, depending on its master, but it remains a beast.)

Mike Masnick – Techdirt. (With more background on the Ross "Dread Pirate Roberts" Ulbricht case.)

Joe Mullin – Ars Technica. (Another site that covered the Dread Pirate well.)

Annalee Newitz – Gizmodo. (This is why Gizmodo doesn't harvest IP addresses.)

C. J. Ciaramella – Buzzfeed.

Tim Lynch – Cato Institute. (Reason's less druggy older libertarian brother.)

Joe Palazzolo – Wall Street Journal Law Blog.

Doug Mataconis – Outside the Beltway. (Noting the interesting timing, just after Elonis.)

"Dana" Non-White – Patterico.

Rick Moran – American Thinker.

Ryan Radia – Competitive Enterprise Institute.  (A scholarly approach.)

Steven Hayward – Power Line.  ("An in-kind contribution by DOJ to Rand Paul")

Pat Beall – Palm Beach Post.

"Alex in CT" – Right Thinking.

Kate Vinton – Forbes.

Peter Ingemi – Da Tech Guy. (On the stupidity of the comments, as well as the investigation.)

Korean Central News Agency, Pyongyang. (Covering the "hypocritical braggarts" behind this investigation.)

"The Two Way" – National Public Radio.

TYLER FUCKING DURDEN! – Zero Hedge.

Editorial Board – Investors Business Daily.

Jack Marshall – Ethics Alarms.

Virgil Vaduva – Punk Rock Libertarians.

Katherine Forrest – Above The Law.  (Mildly disappointing for lack of substance and focus on the inanity of Reason's commenters, but ATL's own commenters are even worse than Reason's. Perhaps it was "meta.")

Brendan James – Talking Points Memo.

Kari Paul – Vice Motherboard.

And finally…

Nick Gillespie – Reason.com. (Please keep your comments civil.)

We don't endorse or agree with all of the coverage this situation has gotten, but obviously we think it's important. The only surprise is that it hasn't gotten more reporting. If you know of other coverage, from blogs or traditional media, please let me know in comments below, and I'll keep this list updated.

We will continue to cover this matter, as we are able.

How To Spot And Critique Censorship Tropes In The Media's Coverage Of Free Speech Controversies

American journalists and pundits rely upon vigorous free speech, but are not reliable supporters of it. They both instruct and reflect their fickle audience.

It's easy to spot overt calls for censorship from the commentariat. Those have become more common in the wake of both tumultuous events (like the violence questionably attributed to the "Innocence of Muslims" video, or Pamela Geller's "Draw Muhammad" contest) and mundane ones (like fraternity brothers recorded indulging in racist chants).

But it's harder to detect the subtle pro-censorship assumptions and rhetorical devices that permeate media coverage of free speech controversies. In discussing our First Amendment rights, the media routinely begs the question — it adopts stock phrases and concepts that presume that censorship is desirable or constitutional, and then tries to pass the result off as neutral analysis. This promotes civic ignorance and empowers deliberate censors.

Fortunately, this ain't rocket science. Americans can train themselves to detect and question the media's pro-censorship tropes. I've collected some of the most pervasive and familiar ones. This post is designed as a resource, and I'll add to it as people point out more examples and more tropes.

When you see the media using these tropes, ask yourself: what normative message is the author advancing, and does it have any basis in law?

[Read more…]

A Few Questions For The New York Times About Depictions of Muhammad

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, some media outlets have published pictures of the cartoons that were terrorists' purported justification for slaughter. Some have not. Some have steered a bizarre middle course and shown people holding blurred cartoons.

The New York Times has elected not to publish the cartoons depicting Muhammad. The Times' public editor explained the decision as follows:

Mr. Baquet told me that he started out the day Wednesday convinced that The Times should publish the images, both because of their newsworthiness and out of a sense of solidarity with the slain journalists and the right of free expression.

He said he had spent “about half of my day” on the question, seeking out the views of senior editors and reaching out to reporters and editors in some of The Times’s international bureaus. They told him they would not feel endangered if The Times reproduced the images, he told me, but he remained concerned about staff safety.

“I sought out a lot of views, and I changed my mind twice,” he said. “It had to be my decision alone.”

Ultimately, he decided against it, he said, because he had to consider foremost the sensibilities of Times readers, especially its Muslim readers. To many of them, he said, depictions of the prophet Muhammad are sacrilegious; those that are meant to mock even more so. “We have a standard that is long held and that serves us well: that there is a line between gratuitous insult and satire. Most of these are gratuitous insult.”

“At what point does news value override our standards?” Mr. Baquet asked. “You would have to show the most incendiary images” from the newspaper; and that was something he deemed unacceptable.

I have questions for the Times in light of this policy.

1. Does the Times maintain a list of gratuitously offensive types of expression, and act based on that list, or does it address items on a case-by-case basis? If there is a list, is it public?

2. How big does a group have to be for the Times to accept its assertion that particular expression is offensive?

3. What percentage of a group must view expression as offensive for you to refrain from that expression? In other words, what portion of Muslims must find depictions of Muhammad to be gratuitously offensive for you to refrain from that expression?

4. Do you consider the degree of offense within a particular group? How do you measure that degree?

5. If there is dissent within a social or religious community about whether something is gratuitously offensive, how do you decide which faction to listen to?

6. Do you consider whether claims to offense may be politically motivated? For instance, if some American group (say, religious conservatives) asserted loudly that use of terms like "Happy Holidays" was gratuitously offensive, would you accept that, or would you ignore it on the basis that it was part of a "culture war?" If Americans claimed that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is gratuitously offensive because it is calculated to mock religion, how would you evaluate that claim?

7. Do you consider the recency of claims of gratuitous offense? If the claims arise relatively recently — when in the past the conduct was tolerated or did not occasion great statements of offense?

8. Does it make any difference to your decision that a particular group will react to what it sees as "gratuitous offense" with violence? Follow-up: if you do consider that, do you evaluate whether responding to threatened violence by not publishing something may encourage more threatened violence?

9. Has the New York Times ever decided not to run a religious image other than Muhammad on the theory that it would be sacrilegious or gratuitously offensive? Which one?

10. The Times has previously run anti-Semitic cartoons when they are in the news, "Piss Christ," pictures of a painting of the Virgin Mary smeared with dung, and pictures of Westboro Baptist protesters in vivid anti-gay shirts. Is it the Times' position that those decisions can be reconciled with this one, or is this a change in policy? If it is a change in policy, is it intended as an institutional one, or one that just remains during the tenure of a particular editor?

11. Please consider the cover of the new post-massacre Charlie Hebdo:

hebdo

Is this picture, leaving offense aside, newsworthy? If so, will you weigh that newsworthiness against the offense you believe it will give, or apply a categorical ban? Do you believe that words can adequately convey the literal, figurative, and emotive impact? If someone asserts that the picture is offensive not just as a depiction, but as a caricature, can your readers evaluate that claim without looking at the picture?

12. Are there particular staffers at the Times who specialize in evaluating and advising about degrees of offense? How are they trained?

13. Do you have a plan for what to do if a group expands its assertions about what is offensive? For instance, suppose that some Muslims begin to assert — vociferously — that depictions of all those it counts as prophets (including Jesus) are offensive and must be avoided, how would you evaluate that claim?

14. There are, as you know, different groups within Islam. What if a reform group began encouraging depictions of Muhammad as a signifier of reform, asserting that the contrary interpretation is false, and that those who attack depictions are wrong about Islam? How would you decide which faction to avoid offending?

15. Let's say some blogger starts a trend of using this emoticon: @[–<. It is widely understood that the emoticon is meant by its users to depict Muhammad, in an effort to illustrate that bans on depictions are unprincipled and can easily be made ridiculous. Would you run the emoticon? Or would you just describe it? How would you decide? 16. Imagine that a segment of Muslims begins to assert that it is sacrilegious to print Muhammad's name without a ṣalawāt like "pbuh." Are there conditions that would arise that would lead you to do so? What are those conditions? Are violence, or threats of violence, one of them? I'm just asking questions.

The Curious Case Of The T.V. Attorney And Twitter

I'll confess that I don't watch much television news, but I have run across Greta Van Susteren through the years, principally when she served as an analyst during the O.J. Simpson trial. Since then, it would appear Ms. Van Susteren has parlayed her expertise into a nightly primetime show on the Fox News Channel.

Where she pontificates on matters outside her expertise.

For instance, Ms. Van Susteren, who may be highly qualified to discuss the criminal law, also feels qualified to discuss computer surveillance, security, and international intelligence. But on these matters she has no more business giving opinions than do I. Less, in fact. I know this, because I am one of her sources of news.

Screenshots follow, to punish the guilty.

Greta

Greta2

Now, it may well be that Ms. Van Susteren has been to North Korea three times, and she may well read a bit about the country, but if she is obtaining her news from "the North Korea state-owned news twitter feed," she is obtaining it from a dubious source indeed. The feed's actual author, me4, has never been to the Korean peninsula at all, and cannot read a word of the language. "The North Korean state run media" is a parody, derived in tone more from Soviet Russian newspapers (which I could read) than from Korean propaganda.

How could this have happened? Probably confirmation bias: the Tweet was too good to check. If Ms. Van Susteren had scrolled further down the feed, she'd have found such gems of news as:

or the latest celebrity gossip from Pyongyang:

We're told, by the media, that we should trust their authority, that they have "layers of editors and fact-checkers" at their service. But sometimes they're no better than bloggers, particularly when they venture outside their areas of expertise, or they fail to consult actual experts.

This is not a slam against Ms. Van Susteren or Fox News in particular. The "North Korea state-owned news twitter feed" has taken in many journalists through the years, at publications and websites more and less prestigious, on the right and left sides of the ideological center. It is to say, rather, that we as consumers of what the news media purvey, should be careful about what we're buying.

Trust but verify. Caveat emptor.

UPDATE:

Despite multiple comments at her own site warning Ms. Van Susteren, THIS IS A PARODY, meaning, "Go back and look," Ms. Van Susteren (who has updated her post) merely concedes that "some say" the "North Korea state-owned news twitter feed" is a parody. I myself, and others, have tweeted her multiple times to tell her: "Yes it is."

Greta3

 

It's disappointing that, rather than conceding the obvious, Ms. Van Susteren went with the "some say" dodge. I've fallen victim to benevolent pranks and hoaxes myself: the best course is to offer congratulations: "You got me," laugh, and admit it. So I've offered Ms. Van Susteren time-stamped proof:

I'm sure Ms. Van Susteren gets many replies on Twitter, so perhaps she hasn't read of this. But she has been active on the service, since the world learned the truth about Joe Biden.

It is a sweet puppy. Again, this isn't ideological criticism of Ms. Van Susteren, or of Fox, but an example of confirmation bias. When I want to get ideological, I do it with Juche. SECOND UPDATE: drudge-siren Greta4   If Ms. Van Susteren replies or addresses this, we will update.

THIRD UPDATE:

drudge-siren

Remember when I said this gentle bit of media criticism was non-ideological?

Slate, hardly a bastion of right-wing thought, has just fallen for the same bait (here's a cache). According to Slate, North Korea is enjoying a massive breakthrough in internet technology.

Again, a screenshot to punish the guilty:

Slate3To its credit, Slate has left the story (mostly) intact, and published a correction. A most grudging correction, which hardly acknowledges that author Lily Hay Newman was hacked by … her own gullibility, and again, confirmation bias.

Slate

It isn't a "misstatement," Ms. Newman. It's a failure to read. Again, if you'd only scrolled down the feed a bit, you'd have discovered this recap of the 2014 World Cup:

Or this important news about Ebola in the United States:

Caveat lector.

FOURTH UPDATE: MUST CREDIT POPEHAT AND DPRK_NEWS!

drudge-siren

drudge-siren

Sweet Jesus! The Washington Post!

WAPO1

 

WAPO

 

Layers of editors and fact-checkers.

FIFTH UPDATE!

Newsweek, which isn't saying much, these days, but I'll take it.

Newsweek1

 

SIXTH UPDATE:

Another hour, another scalp claimed from people who should know better.

And finally… Welcome Instapundit readers! Many thanks to Professor Reynolds for the link to this post, which as acknowledged above, demonstrates something he's been saying about news consumption for years: Caveat emptor. SEVENTH UPDATE, AND AN EIGHTH THERE SHALL NOT BE! drudge-siren Newsweek can take a joke. They asked for an interview, and we gave it. And: Mediaite, a site devoted to analysis of the U.S. running dog lackey media, also asked for comment. We complied. EIGHTH UPDATE, FIFTEEN DAYS LATER. The most trusted name in news. "Braggartly." CNN8 CNN has memory-holed that part of the story, but we keep screenshots. Archive here. 

NINTH UPDATE: BRITISH TABLOID EDITION, EIGHTEEN DAYS LATER

The spit-licking hyenas of Britain's Daily Mail may embrace the DPRK, but that will not save them.

DailyMail1

DailyMail2

DailyMail

Texas Court Makes Upskirts Mandatory, Outlaws Kittens, Hates Your Mother

Surely you've heard about this. A Texas court — full of old men, reeking of misogyny — has ruled that taking upskirt photos of unwilling women is free speech protected by the First Amendment!

How ridiculous! How despicable!

I mean, at least — that's what I think happened, based on how the story has been reported and talked about.

[Read more…]

Patrick McLaw, Skepticism, And Law Enfocement's Obliging Stenographers

Imagine a local news channel in a small city. The channel starts running stories fed to it by criminals, thugs, and n'er-do-wells. The stories are uncritical and unquestioning. "Local methamphetamine dealers report that their product is more reasonably priced and safer than ever," goes one report. "Consent: is it an unfairly ambiguous concept?" goes another. "A career burglar explains why alarms are a bad investment," goes the third.

Seems ridiculous, like something out of The Onion, doesn't it? Yet we endure the equivalent all the time — news stories that are indistinguishable from press releases written by law enforcement or government.

Take the story of Patrick McLaw or Maryland. Several writers are posing troubling questions about whether McLaw was suspended from his teaching job, subjected to some sort of involuntary mental health examination, and his home searched based on the fact that he wrote science fiction novels set in 2902 under a pen name. Jeffrey Goldberg explains:

A 23-year-old teacher at a Cambridge, Maryland, middle school has been placed on leave and—in the words of a local news report—"taken in for an emergency medical evaluation" for publishing, under a pseudonym, a novel about a school shooting. The novelist, Patrick McLaw, an eighth-grade language-arts teacher at the Mace's Lane Middle School, was placed on leave by the Dorchester County Board of Education, and is being investigated by the Dorchester County Sheriff's Office, according to news reports from Maryland's Eastern Shore. The novel, by the way, is set 900 years in the future.

Though I am generally receptive to believing the worst about law enforcement and local government, I was skeptical when numerous people emailed asking me to write about this. I suspected that more than two books were at issue. Subsequent reporting suggests that McLaw may have sent a letter that was the trigger of a "mental health investigation":

Concerns about McLaw were raised after he sent a four-page letter to officials in Dorchester County. Those concerns brought together authorities from multiple jurisdictions, including health authorities.

McLaw's attorney, David Moore, tells The Times that his client was taken in for a mental health evaluation. "He is receiving treatment," Moore said.

Because of HIPPA regulations mandating privacy around healthcare issues, he was unable to say whether McLaw has been released.

McLaw's letter was of primary concern to healthcare officials, Maciarello says. It, combined with complaints of alleged harassment and an alleged possible crime from various jurisdictions led to his suspension. Maciarello cautions that these allegations are still being investigated; authorities, he says, "proceeded with great restraint."

What's more, he told The Times, "everyone knew about the book in 2012."

We need more facts before we draw firm conclusions, but for the moment, I think there is reason to believe that the story may be more complicated than the provocative "authorities overreact to citizen's fiction writing" take.

But it is not at all surprising that people would leap to that conclusion. Two factors encourage it.

The first factor is law enforcement and government overreach. When schools call the police when a student writes a story about shooting a dinosaur, and when law enforcement uses the mechanism of the criminal justice system to attack satirical cartoons or Twitter parodies, it is perfectly plausible that a school district and local cops would overreact to science fiction.

The second factor is very bad journalism. The Patrick McLaw story blowing up over the long weekend can be traced to terrible reporting by WBOC journalist Tyler Butler in a post that was linked and copied across the internet. Butler reported McLaw's pen name as a sinister alias, reported as shocking the fact that McLaw wrote science fiction about a futuristic school shooting, and quoted law enforcement and school officials uncritically and without challenge. Faced with the bare bones of the story, any competent reporter would have asked questions: is this only about the two books he wrote? Was there a basis, other than fiction, to think he posed a threat? Are there any other factors that resulted in this suspension and "mental health examination?" Was the examination voluntary or involuntary? Is it reasonable to suspend and "examine" someone and search their home over science fiction?

Even if authorities refused to answer those questions, a competent reporter would discuss them. "Authorities declined to say whether any factors other than the two books led to the investigation," Tyler Butler might have written. Asking the questions and reporting on them might have restrained our temptation to believe the worst. Instead he gave us this:

Those books are what caught the attention of police and school board officials in Dorchester County. "The Insurrectionist" is about two school shootings set in the future, the largest in the country's history.

Journalists ought to ask tough questions of government and law enforcement, to present us with the facts we need to evaluate their actions. But too often they don't. Too often journalists run with law enforcement "leaks" without considering how the leaks impact the rights of the suspects, or asking why the government is leaking in the first place. Too often journalists allow themselves to be manipulated by law enforcement, not recognizing the manipulation as the important part of the story. To often journalists accept the headline-grabbing take rather than the less scandalous but more correct take. Too often journalists buy access with the coin of deference. Too often journalists report the law enforcement spin as fact.

That's why when a local news channel reports matter-of-factly that a man was detained and "examined" over science fiction, it doesn't occur to us to question the story. Just as it's entirely plausible that the government might do it, it's entirely plausible that journalists might report it without criticism, analysis, or apparent consciousness of how outrageous it would be.