The unholy relationship between media and police is nothing new. The former relies on the latter feeding it stories, press releases, details of crimes and emergencies, and when the cops don’t feed them the story, they have no story to tell. The upshot is that newspapers can’t afford to piss off the cops or they could end up with empty pages.
An email from Shane Jacobs of the Kentucky State Police made this abundantly clear.
Good afternoon, I would like to start out by saying that I feel I have a great working relationship with the media in our area. I work many hours and sometimes on my days off to relay information to the media outlets. I want you guys to know I do have a personal life and sometimes I can’t respond to your emails as quick as you would like. I am out of town at times spending it with my family. I have trainings, State Fair, Trooper Island, and other events I have to attend, which causes me to be out of town also.
While it’s unclear what “Trooper Island” is about, it sure sounds like fun (“da plane, da plane”) and what sort of person would deny a spokesman his pleasure. It may not demonstrate the usual claims of the job being unduly dangerous, though there are always risks of paper cuts, but still, family time matters. And what threat isn’t more convincing when it invokes a cop’s need for “me time”?
And then he drops the bomb.
I say all this to say this, from this point forward when KSP is working an investigation, you are to wait until OUR (KSP) press release is sent out before putting anything out on social media, radio, and newspaper. No more posting inaccurate information from Sheriff’s or anyone else. I don’t care to confirm something and then get a release out later.
Authority of my supervisors, if this continues, you will be taken off our media distribution list. Thanks Shane.
When they’re told “you are to wait,” it’s an order. The Mountain Advocate, however, was not inclined to take its orders from the KSP, no matter how close and loving their relationship.
In response, Mountain Advocate publisher Jay Nolan stated, “We believe our community is best served when an independent, free press works closely with all law enforcement agencies. Our mutual goal should be to keep the public fully informed and protected.”
He went on to say, “For the KSP to tell us we can only report what the KSP says, when they want to say it, and we must ignore any and all other sources, that’s crazy. Any professional journalist would consider a publicly elected law enforcement professional like our Sheriff as a credible source. Sheriff Smith has 27 years of law enforcement experience, 24 of which with KSP itself. To tell us we can’t quote someone like him, or an eyewitness, or a local police chief? And, for them to threaten us with removal from their media list is at best misguided.”
That the KSP would suggest that a newspaper not publish news without its approval is a shocking thing. It may well be that newspapers will acquiesce to the desires of the cops, since the cops’ press releases make their job a lot easier and provide verbatim articles, passive tense aside, that completely explain how guns magically discharged into people’s heads, but to order a newspaper to not publish until the cops say so?
Naturally, the outraged Mountain Advocate rejected this order and told the KSP to kiss their First Amendment butt.
“In my years of working with The Mountain Advocate, I feel our relationship with local law enforcement is stronger than it’s ever been,” said Mountain Advocate Editor Charles Myrick. “This demand has totally blindsided us. However, we will continue to do our job and keep the public informed, regardless of the agency or agencies involved.”
The boldness of their reaction is heart-warming, but that part about “our relationship with local law enforcement”? It may be that the editor is trying to smooth over whatever problem gave rise to Jacobs’ email, but should a newspaper have a “strong relationship” with law enforcement? Does that not suggest it can’t be critical of its beloved pals when they do the dirty? Does that mean they parrot the lie so as not to hurt their buddy’s feelings?
“We always try to support our law enforcement officers at every level. We know they have a difficult and dangerous job,” Nolan stated, pointing out that two sheriff’s deputies in Knox County were shot in the line of duty just last year.
“I appreciate the sacrifices all law enforcement officers make in keeping our people safe,” said Myrick. “But part of keeping the public safe is an open forum of communication, and that’s what we do. An attempt to silence the media is not only a breach of the First Amendment, but a slap in the face of any effort to keep our public safe.”
Remember when “neither fear nor favor” was the journalists’ mantra? Good times. It’s unclear what the Mountain Advocate did to cause the KSP to issue its order to remain silent until it gave them permission to write, and perhaps they are brave and bold, even if it’s hardly apparent from their reaction. Perhaps the reaction is just an effort to smooth ruffled feathers while going public about this “slap in the face.”
But to the extent the KSP stepped way over the line by issuing a newspaper orders upon threat of withholding its press releases, detailing the close and loving supportive relationship between the media and the police sends a clear message as well. They may not like the KSP giving them marching orders, but they will still march to the KSP’s tune.