December 5, 2015

Journalists — keep your eyes on the serious story playing out in San Bernardino.

On Friday, a jaw-dropping distraction derailed important reporting when dozens of journalists invaded the apartment where the San Bernardino shooters used to live. A Sunday Times reporter, Toby Harnden, says he used the landlord’s crowbar and screwdriver to detach plywood that blocked the residence’s front entrance.

Much of the coverage from inside the apartment verged on the absurd, a sentiment that was echoed on Twitter. Viewers who watched the scrum unfold on live TV said the screwdriver Harnden used looked like a popsicle, starting a Twitter-fed rumor that he took food from the apartment.

Harnden quickly shot down the speculation.

The ridiculous popsicle controversy underscores the ludicrous decision to enter the apartment in the first place. If there was any reason to invade the apartment — and I am not at all sure there is — then reporters could have at least organized a press pool to keep the disturbance to a minimum. The alternative was a pack of journalists pawing through personal possessions and looking inside closets and bathrooms live on TV. Furthermore, nobody should have entered until police made it clear that the scene no longer holds evidence and that the landlord had the legal authority to grant such access.

Such is the height of the journalists’ misdeeds that they’re sparking concerns for the privacy of the shooters by invading their home and turning a horrific story into a circus.

Reporters have covered far too many of these cases lately, which can lead to desensitization and a sense of routine. But that shouldn’t lead to callous and competitive behavior that obscures the gravity of the situation.

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
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