Jonathan Martin says he got Bozeman reporter's photo from another source

Jonathan Martin says there's no way he swiped a photo from another reporter.

"Anybody who knows me, or just follows me on Twitter, will appreciate how laughable it is that I would seek to diminish another reporter," said Martin, national political correspondent for The New York Times. "I greatly admire my colleagues in the press corps — overseas, in Washington and in the states — and promote their work online all the time."

So how, then, did he come into possession of an image that's identical to one tweeted by Whitney Bermes, a cops and courts reporter at the Bozeman Daily Chronicle? That question was circulating on Twitter Thursday after Bermes shared a photo of the assault citation for Greg Gianforte, the newly elected Montana congressman who body slammed Guardian U.S. reporter Ben Jacobs on the eve of the election.

After Martin tweeted it, Bermes called him out for failing to credit her for the scoop.

https://twitter.com/jmartNYT/status/867756071904886784

https://twitter.com/wabermes/status/867761213844934656

In an email to Poynter Friday, Bermes says she hasn't heard from Martin directly and conceded he might have gotten it from someone else. But if he did, she said, why not credit her?

"My argument was, if that's the case, I would expect a publication like The New York Times to verify where the photo came from and give due credit," she said. "That photo didn't just appear out of thin air. I took it and deserve attribution."

Martin says he did indeed get the photo from someone else, "a reliable Democratic source who is well-connected in Montana." Here's what happened, per Martin:

I was up early Thursday morning to drive from Missoula to Bozeman, about a three-hour trip, because I wanted to be in place to cover Gianforte in case he apologized to Ben Jacobs (Gianforte waited till the polls were closed, and he had won, to issue his mea culpa). I got off the interstate in Butte to grab coffee do a quick drive-by of some of the old mining sites.

When I checked my phone, I saw that I had a text from a reliable Democratic source who is well-connected in Montana. The entirety of the text was the image of the court summons. I got the source's assurance that it was legitimate and posted it on Twitter.

I thought it was sort of interesting — the charges against Gianforte in black and white — but did not amount to any advance of the story. It was well known at this point, to put it mildly, that the Republican House candidate in Montana had been charged with assault in Gallatin County Wednesday night. In other words, it was a good nugget to share on Twitter.

I only learned that somebody else had posted an image of the summons when my source texted me a tweet from the Chronicle reporter, in which she accused me of lifting the photo from her Twitter feed. Just below the Tweet, and without my having asked him, my source texted me: "I didn't get it from her." To be clear, I don't follow this reporter on Twitter and only seen the photo via the text from my source.

As I continued to drive, only occasionally checking my phone, I noticed a Tweet in my feed from an editor at the Chronicle also charging me with having lifted the document. I responded to him that he was incorrect and told him he was welcome to email me if he had any questions. My contact information is on my Twitter page. I never heard a word from the editor or the reporter. Instead, they continued to question my integrity via Twitter, and others, many trolls and some with legitimate handles, did the same.

So: Martin got Bermes' photo from a source. The source says they didn't get it from Bermes. Without talking to the source, it's impossible to tell where they got it.

That could have been cleared up right away Martin had "clarified that a source had provided him the photo," said Michael Becker, the city and online editor at The Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

Shortly after he assured me via Twitter that he was an upstanding guy and told me to email him, he clammed up and the trolls took over. Because of the breaking news that day inundating us with traffic and mentions, after a few initial tweets on the matter, I turned off Twitter notifications and paid no more attention.

Could I have acknowledged in a tweet that he might have got a filched photo from someone else? Yes. But his attitude of wanting to hold a private discussion (because we were clearly too ill-informed of his sterling reputation to have a leg to stand on) rubbed me the wrong way on a stressful day.

In summary: Martin's initial tweet’s wording was obtuse and implied he’d done the work. If he’d clarified that a source had provided him the photo, this could have all been cleared up amicably.

As for him wanting to discuss it privately off Twitter: Martin should stand by and defend what he tweets in public as vigorously as he apparently would over email.

Martin says local reporters inspired him to get into the business, and he's not the type of person who would try to pass off another reporter's work as his own.

"It was the capitol press corps in Richmond," Martin said. "They were my model. So my reaction to this has, in sum, been: 'sigh, you got the wrong guy.'"

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    Benjamin Mullin

    Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism innovation, business practices and ethics.

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