This week a disgruntled postal employee flew a gyrocopter to the nation’s capitol to protest prolific political campaign financing that he believes are destroying the country. The story should be about the angry protester, Doug Hughes, but the behavior of the journalists covering the story has now come into focus.
This from the Associated Press:
A Florida newspaper that knew ahead of time that a man planned to fly a gyrocopter into restricted airspace at the U.S. Capitol faced questions Thursday about whether its editors should have used this knowledge to try and stop the risky stunt.
The Tampa Bay Times, which posted reporter Ben Montgomery in Washington on Wednesday to document postal worker Doug Hughes’ self-styled protest flight that landed on the Capitol grounds, said that its responsibility was to cover, not change, the story. Hughes is charged with operating an unregistered aircraft and violating national airspace.
The debate is an old one in journalism: should reporters strictly observe society or be part of it? The Times’ role began last summer, when Hughes contacted Montgomery about his plan to fly the tiny aircraft in Washington. He wanted to do something splashy to draw attention to campaign finance reform by personally airmailing letters to members of Congress. The Times interviewed Hughes in advance, and took photos and videos of his gyrocopter, but Brown said the reporter made no commitment to do a story and made clear the newspaper was not his partner.
“Our job is to be observers,” said Neil Brown, editor and vice president of the Times. “We are not arms of the government. That said, that position was clearly strengthened by the fact that the authorities were already in the know about Doug Hughes.”
In its reporting, the newspaper confirmed with Hughes and a co-worker that they had been interviewed by the Secret Service, and Washington lawmakers said Thursday the troubled agency had interviewed Hughes two years ago.
The agency has been on the defensive over the last several months amid a series of security breaches. In September a man armed with a knife was able to scale a White House fence and run deep into the executive mansion before being apprehended. Earlier that month, the Secret Service was unaware that President Barack Obama… (read more)