prof. e.

Mass Communication, [multi]media, methodology and much, much more!

Journalists Behaving Badly

Posted by prof e on December 5, 2015

A tweet by Will Federman, an Audience Engagement Editor at Fortune Magazine, captured the essence of a bizarre incident that took place yesterday at the home of Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, suspected of the recent mass shooting in San Bernardino, CA.


The tweet was a response to live news coverage from inside the home of the accused couple, where reporters from MSNBC, CNN, the LA Times, and other new organizations, were combing through the house and the occupants’ personal belongings. Social media erupted as the live coverage of the “home invasion” played out on the screen. According to reports, the landlord (the accused were renting) used a pry bar to gain access to the home.

For more coverage of the “coverage”, NPR has photos and commentary.

The fact that police and FBI agents apparently stood by as journalists entered and began sifting through personal belongings does not excuse their behavior.

Problems, of course, include: the invasion of privacy of people associated with the accused, the voyeuristic nature of the coverage, the inability to make editorial decisions on the fly when broadcasting live, and possible contamination of a crime scene. Journalists, and other members of the public, are typically kept out of crime scenes until after the police and investigators have done their work. In this case the police realized too late what was going on and failed to close down the scene until after the integrity of the home was compromised.

The lesson for students attending j[ournalism] school is that reporters should know their ethical and legal rights when covering criminal news, and should not allow a mob mentality to overtake them when doing their job. I’m sure that some of the journalists present knew that they were acting in a way that was unprofessional and potentially illegal, but the fact that others were doing it…potentially “scooping” them in the process…was enough to convince them to join in. Of course there may have been a few who were confused by the apparently lack of direction from those in authority. However, ignorance is not a defense and access to private property should always follow appropriate legal procedures.

So there you go j-school students…you don’t have to wait until next fall to learn this lesson.

  • know the law
  • don’t be swayed by the mob mentality
  • question authority…even if the authority figures in question appear to be aiding rather than obstructing your efforts to get the scoop

3 Responses to “Journalists Behaving Badly”

  1. Sonny Montoya said

    I don’t understand how the journalists got passed the FBI. Investigators and officers should have marked the place off as a crime scene by then and have a firm eye on potential trespassers. What if it were someone trying to tamper with the crime scene and remove evidence, instead of journalists? Would they have got through anyway? I think the reporters who broke into the house should be held accountable for what they did, or at least be questioned. The ones who didn’t should be accredited for their honest behavior.

  2. caitlin broadwell said

    This article is a bit questionable, on the FBI’s part. It scares me to think that the people who are supposed to protect us of our rights, are abusing them. It’s also makes the reporters who broke into the house lose some validity to their stories. Ignorance is not an excuse for their actions, as reports they should know all their actions have consequences and that they are supposed to follow the rules. Just because they are reporters does not give them special rights.

  3. Wesley Padgett said

    This definitely was a conflict of interest and caused an outrage with the convicted felon. This also is known as pack journalism when they invade others privacy without consent. What is crazy to know is that there is no legal law against journalists doing this, but it is just simply frowned upon and encouraged not to. I definitely think that they should make a law about trying to disallow access until the FBI give them legal permission to come on to legal crime scene sites. I think that it would help protect the privacy of people in general and allow a delay of uncertain or confidential information.

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