Police Have A Laundry List Of Things They'd Like The Media Not To Cover In The Dorner Case
Last night the LAPD sent out an e-mail to its press list asking that reporters stop trying to contact anyone in the LAPD involved in the investigation of the Christopher Dorner case.
It's hard to imagine any legitimate reporter in Los Angeles taking the request seriously, but we're publishing the e-mail in the interest of full disclosure. This message caps off a long week of requests for self-censorship (and yes, that sounds like double-speak) from different police agencies, and the requests seem to be getting increasingly broad.
Here's the e-mail from LAPD last night:
The Chief of Police has directed that all LAPD personnel involved with the Dorner incident, particularly those personnel connected with the protection details, including the protectees and their families, not participate in any media interviews at this time. The Department is not opposed to entertaining requests for such interviews in the future when the investigation has concluded and such interviews will not impact the investigations of all involved agencies.
We appreciate the cooperation of all journalists and request that all attempts to contact LAPD personnel involved with the Dorner case cease immediately. All future requests shall be submitted through the LAPD Media Relations Section and will be considered on a case by case basis in compliance with the Chief’s current directive.
When the news first broke last week that there was a massive manhunt for an ex-LAPD cop accused of three murders, the LAPD sent out an e-mail asking news agencies to redact names and most outlets (including us) complied. This week during the final standoff with Dorner, the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department (via the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office) asked that the media stop tweeting about the case. Not everyone complied, but the Riverside Press-Enterprise and CBS Los Angeles honored law enforcement's wishes while continuing their web and TV coverage. Why tweets were off-limits while TV, radio and internet were fine wasn't clear at all, and in some ways it backfired: the Pasadena Star-News noted that the request sparked an "uproar" on social media. KPCC did a great job putting together a Storify account of who complied and who protested.
Compare that to what happened in Seattle when there was a massive manhunt for a cop-killer three years ago: the Seattle Times received a Pulitzer prize that was based in part on the tweets it sent out as a part of its coverage.
We can understand the need for balancing safety with offering up crucial information that the public needs. But this week we saw a lot more evidence that our local press could be a hell of a lot more aggressive in this story and should be pushing for greater transparency from the police sources.
It took three days for a major paper like the Los Angeles Times to address the controversial methods that experts used in the final standoff with Dorner, long after the debate roiled on Twitter, Facebook and alternative media outlets. The local press also initially swallowed the story from a Torrance Police Department press release that a third person mistakenly fired at near an LAPD police detail wasn't injured, even though it raises grave questions about the pursuit for Dorner and police methods in general.
Some transparency advocates go so far as wondering whether a public airing of the grievances in the case that ended Dorner's career would have blunted the roots of Dorner's rage. His own mother told Fox News that she wishes that the news outlet could have covered the allegations in his manifesto before he went off on a shooting rampage.
The police request for blackout and the press' anemic response isn't doing either agency any favors. Many Angelenos were already skeptical of law enforcement—and their treatment of minorities—and the way the press covers these issues. You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist or a Dorner sympathizer or even a skeptic at all to see how the lack of police transparency and an aggressive news presence at a critical moment is only fueling those fears and doing a grave disservice to the public.
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