Here was the dramatic scene at a convenience store in Troy, New York, last Friday night.
According to Mike Goodwin and Kathleen Moore of the Albany Times Union, a man crashed his car through the door of the store a little after 11 p.m. and held the manager and an employee hostage. He had a pair of scissors, although police said they thought he had a knife. Police also said the man “wanted to get his story out” and that no one was listening to him.
The first police officer on the scene, William Fitch, is a trained negotiator and he talked with the man for nearly 90 minutes. Fitch told the Times Union, “I realized in the first couple minutes, he was definitely having some sort of mental episode. I told him I was here for him, asked him what he needs, what we can do for him.”
The man told Fitch that he didn’t want to hurt anyone. Another member of the crisis negotiation team, Sgt. Nicholas Laviano, showed up and he and Fitch came up with a plan: What if police, posing as TV journalists, were to put the man on camera? They told the man that he could get his message out over TV if he let the hostages go.
The man agreed.
Of course, the police had no intention of actually airing the man’s grievances, but they had to act the part. Police began calling local stations and asked them to “get here as soon as possible.” When the first station showed up, police took one of their shoulder cameras and put it on an officer dressed as a cameraman. They turned on the light of the camera, but not the camera itself, and let the man talk.
The man eventually surrendered. No one was hurt, which was a good thing, obviously. But is there an issue with police posing as journalists?
I asked my colleague, Al Tompkins, senior faculty and group leader for broadcast media at Poynter, and a veteran TV journalist himself, what he thought about the whole situation.
“On the one hand, it is a good outcome that nobody was hurt,” Tompkins told me. “But this kind of tactic should only be an extremely unusual last resort. And when it happens, it should be fully disclosed to the public.”
What is the harm?
“The danger is that journalists already face vitriol from some people in the public who believe journalists are an arm of law enforcement,” Tompkins said. “Anything that adds to that suspicion is potentially dangerous to journalists.”
As far as this specific incident, Tompkins said, “We do not know what alternatives they considered, but one might have been that they record the man on their cellphone and say they will offer it to the media. Journalists would be wise not to use such video if police did that, but it might satisfy the demand. Another option might be to not pose as a journalist but allow the actual journalist into the situation. The man had scissors, not a gun, so the danger to the journalist would have been small.”
Laviano, one of the police negotiators, told the Times Union, “The reason we did this is because he said he would release the hostage. We weren’t going to put a civilian in that position.”
Washington Post suspends reporter over retweet
The Washington Post has suspended reporter Dave Weigel without pay for retweeting a sexist and homophobic tweet, according to CNN’s Oliver Darcy. It’s not known how long the suspension is, but Darcy noted Weigel’s out-of-office email reply says he will be out until July 5.
Last week, Weigel retweeted YouTuber Cam Harless, who wrote, “Every girl is bi. You just have to figure out if it’s polar or sexual.” The Post’s Felicia Sonmez tweeted a screengrab of Weigel’s retweet and wrote, “Fantastic to work at a news outlet where retweets like this are allowed!”
Weigel removed the retweet and apologized. Darcy reported that Sonmez also noted Weigel’s retweet on the Post’s internal Slack channel, tagged Weigel and wrote that it sent “a confusing message about what the Post’s values are.”
More controversy followed when another Post reporter, Jose A. Del Real, accused Sonmez on Twitter of “repeated and targeted public harassment of a colleague” and suggested she was “rallying the internet to attack (Weigel) for a mistake.”
After a tense back and forth, Del Real briefly deactivated his Twitter account and then blocked Sonmez. This all led Post executive editor Sally Buzbee to send a memo on Sunday telling staff to “treat each other with respect and kindness both in the newsroom and online.”
There have been varying opinions about all that has happened since Weigel retweeted the offensive tweet, and without being in that newsroom it is impossible and completely unfair to characterize what the workplace environment is like at the Post.
But this much is true: Weigel was wrong to retweet the original tweet, Sonmez had every right to call him out on it, and the Post did the right thing by disciplining Weigel.
If you want more on all this, Mediaite’s Sarah Rumpf has a detailed account of everything going back to the beginning.
Who, besides everyone, saw this coming?
Well, here we go again. Elon Musk is threatening to walk away from his bid to buy Twitter because, he claims, the company isn’t giving him information about its spam bot and fake accounts. So, once again, this $44 billion deal that many still believe is never going to happen … might not happen.
Or it still will. Who knows?
Twitter put out a statement that said, “Twitter has and will continue to cooperatively share information with Mr. Musk to consummate the transaction in accordance with the terms of the agreement. We believe this agreement is in the best interests of all shareholders. We intend to close the transaction and enforce the merger agreement at the agreed price and terms.”
The Associated Press’ Tom Krisher and Matt O’Brien wrote, “Lawyers for the Tesla and SpaceX CEO made the threat in a letter to Twitter dated Monday, and Twitter disclosed it in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The letter says Musk has repeatedly asked for the information since May 9, about a month after his offer to buy the company, so he could evaluate how many of the company’s 229 million accounts are fake.”
Krisher and O’Brien added, “Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal has said that Twitter has consistently estimated that fewer than 5% of its accounts are fake. But Musk has disputed that, contending in a May tweet that 20% or more are bogus.”
Meanwhile, Axios’ Felix Salmon writes, “Thanks to the recent rout in technology shares, both Twitter and Tesla, which is the main source of Musk’s wealth, are worth much less today than they were when Musk entered his initial bid of $54.20 per share. That means Musk is overpaying for the company, with money he is going to have difficulty finding.”
Kate Cray has a powerful piece in The Atlantic about what kids are feeling following the recent mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Cray talks to teachers about what their students are saying, and the story also includes handwritten messages from children to legislators and the bereaved.
Some of the heartbreaking sentiments:
- “This is not okay.”
- “I don’t feel safe in school now.”
- “Please change the law, I beg you.”
- “I don’t want to be raised in such a violent place.”
- “We don’t deserve this.”
Bess Murad, a teacher at a Zeta charter school in Upper Manhattan, told Cray, “No one prepares you to sit in front of a fourth-grade class after a fourth-grade shooting and try to explain what happened.”
Take a moment to read Cray’s story.
Remembering The Washington Post’s Watergate editor
I’m late getting to this, but it should be noted that Barry Sussman, the editor who directly oversaw The Washington Post’s Watergate coverage back in the 1970s, died last week at the age of 87.
Sussman was the Post’s city editor in June of 1972 when five burglars broke into the Democratic national headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington. If there’s one flaw in the classic movie “All the President’s Men,” it’s that Sussman was omitted from the story.
In her 2007 book about Watergate and Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, journalist and Watergate scholar Alicia C. Shepard wrote that Sussman’s character was cut out of the movie for “dramatic reasons.” In a detailed obituary of Sussman in the Post, Emily Langer wrote, “The story already had three editors — executive editor Benjamin C. Bradlee, portrayed in an Oscar-winning turn by Jason Robards; managing editor Howard Simons, whose real-life role the movie diminished, played by Martin Balsam; and Metropolitan editor Harry M. Rosenfeld, played by Jack Warden. If Mr. Sussman was deemed superfluous for the movie — a decision that deeply wounded him, according to Shepard’s reporting — he was by all accounts the opposite in the actual events that inspired it.”
While Sussman’s role in the Post’s coverage is considered crucial by everyone involved, a rift developed between him and Woodward and Bernstein, partly because Sussman hoped to help co-write “All the President’s Men” with the two reporters. In that book, Woodward and Bernstein wrote, “More than any other editor at The Post, or Bernstein and Woodward, Sussman became a walking compendium of Watergate knowledge, a reference source to be summoned when even the library failed.”
By the time that book came out, Sussman was reportedly not speaking to Woodward and Bernstein and ended up writing his own book, “The Great Cover-up.”
Despite the rift, after Sussman’s passing, Woodward told the Post’s Langer, “Barry was one of the great imaginative, aggressive editors at The Washington Post during Watergate. We all owe him a debt of gratitude, particularly Carl Bernstein and myself.”
Her side of the story
Last week, retired photographer Nick Ut, who took one of the most famous photographs of the Vietnam War, wrote about that Pulitzer Prize-winning photo in an opinion piece for The Washington Post: “A single photo can change the world. I know, because I took one that did.” His photo of a naked little girl running through the streets after being burned by napalm helped change opinion on the war.
That little girl, Kim Phuc Phan Thi, is now 59 years old and the founder of the Kim Foundation International, which provides aid to child victims of war. She wrote a guest essay for The New York Times: “It’s Been 50 Years. I Am Not ‘Napalm Girl’ Anymore.”
She writes about how the photo, and the ordeal, changed her life — both for good and bad. She writes, “Photographs, by definition, capture a moment in time. But the surviving people in these photographs, especially the children, must somehow go on. We are not symbols. We are human. We must find work, people to love, communities to embrace, places to learn and to be nurtured. It was only in adulthood, after defecting to Canada that I began to find peace and realize my mission in life, with the help of my faith, husband and friends.”
Kim Phuc then wrote about the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and the impact photographs could have. She wrote, “I cannot speak for the families in Uvalde, Texas, but I think that showing the world what the aftermath of a gun rampage truly looks like can deliver the awful reality. We must face this violence head-on, and the first step is to look at it.”
- The New York Times’ Michael M. Grynbaum and John Koblin with “CNN Enters the Post-Jeff Zucker Era. Bye-Bye ‘Breaking News’ Banners.”
- Solid work by The Associated Press’ David Bauder in the aftermath of the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting: “Can journalists and grieving communities coexist in tragedy?”
- Last week’s Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors averaged 11.90 million viewers across ABC and ESPN2. Other than the past two years when the schedule was out of whack because of COVID-19, it was the least-viewed season opener since 9.21 million watched the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs in 2007. The numbers are surprisingly low. I was expecting somewhere in the 16 to 18 million range. The Celtics are one of the league’s most storied franchises and the Warriors are one of the most appealing and popular teams in the game today.
- The Atlantic’s Jennifer Senior has an unsettling profile of Steve Bannon in “American Rasputin.”
- A Reuters special report: Angus Berwick and Tom Wilson with “How crypto giant Binance became a hub for hackers, fraudsters and drug traffickers.”
- The New Yorker’s Patrick Radden Keefe with “The Surreal Case of a C.I.A. Hacker’s Revenge.”
Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at email@example.com.
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