How Reporters Coordinate with Law Enforcement, Martin Shkreli Edition

Why you should question reporters who are obviously working with law enforcement for preferential treatment.


Over at Popehat, Reason Contributor Ken White notes a Reuters photo of and story about Martin Shkreli's arrest and perp walk. Shkreli is the widely vilified drug company CEO who bought the Wu-Tang Clan's single-copy LP Once Upon the Time in Shaolin and has just been arrested on fraud charges.

Writes White:

Today you reported on the arrest of the widely-hated Martin Shkreli on securities fraud charges. You ran a picture of the "perp walk" — the once-free now-defendant being led away in handcuffs by law enforcement:

Here's your oblique comment about getting that sought-after shot:

"Reuters witnessed Shkreli's predawn arrest at the Murray Hill Tower Apartments in midtown Manhattan. Law enforcement, including FBI agents, could be seen escorting the hoodie-clad 32-year-old into a car."

Now, it's possible that Reuters photographers were outside those apartments before dawn because of moxie and hustle. Maybe someone tipped them that a whole bunch of feds had just shown up at that building, and they put two and two together and ran right over in time for the shot. Maybe they heard coordination with the locals over police scanners.

White observes that's an incredibly unlikely scenario and that obviously the Reuters folks were tipped off that the arrest was going to happen. Which leads White, a former prosecutor himself, to ask the following questions:

Who leaked the time and place of the arrest? Was it an FBI agent, a prosecutor, staff, a coordinating local cop? How high up in the government did the decision to leak the arrest go? Did the leak violate the law? Did it violate the defendant's rights? What was the government's purpose in leaking the time and place of the arrest?…

He ends his "open letter" by arguing that, to the extent that Reuters and other reporters are only interested in the optics of a perp walk, especially of a very unpopular person such as Shkreli, they really aren't doing the sort of work they should be. And in many ways, they shouldn't be trusted since they obviously have secret relationships with law enforcement. 

It's a provocative analysis and one that I hadn't really thought about before.

And hey look, here's a 2011 article from Reuters (!) about how the "perp walk," in which a suspect is paraded out of his home or workplace in full view of the public and especially media cameras, became a defining scene of contemporary times. Back when he was a federal prosecutor, Rudy Giuliani raised perp walks to "an art form" and it became clear that it was not just a publicity stunt for the people making the nab, it helped to prejudice the public against the person being arrested regardless of guilt.

But until I read White's piece, I had not really thought fully about the media's (obvious) complicity in all this. Take the time to read it.

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  1. There’s an even bigger WTF in the linked article from a couple of years ago:

    Here’s a story I’ve told before: many years ago, a friend’s client was being arrested in a case that had made local newspapers. The DA investigators showed up early one morning at the client’s house to arrest him, cuffed him, and put him in their car. Then a reporter and photographer ? tipped by someone on the prosecution side ? showed up, late. They complained to the DA investigators that they had missed the perp walk ? the iconic shot of the defendant being led away in handcuffs. The DA investigators obligingly got the client out of the car, walked him back into his house, and then turned around and walked him back to the car so that the photographer could get his perp-walk shot. The paper in question ran the perp-walk shot, but didn’t mention that the cops had staged it. To the journalists involved, a picture of a suspect in handcuffs is news; the willingness of law enforcement to stage that picture is not news.

    Remember, per government:

    Tainting jury through media: Okay
    Handing out flyers about jury nullification: Not Okay

    1. No, no. It’s:

      State influences jury: Okay
      Anyone else influences jury: Not okay.

  2. Once again, an unlikeable person will test America’s commitment to due process. And fail.

    1. I generally have faith in the jury process, at least in criminal cases. One of the few things that the average non-lawyer knows about our justice system is “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” Recall that, despite the efforts of the media to hang the accused before trial in cases like Casey Anthony and George Zimmerman, neither were convicted. I remember after the Zimmerman acquittal, one of the jurors, after being confronted by the media and her friends and family, regretted her vote to acquit, but the fact remains that the prosecutor couldn’t make his case, so the accused walked. That’s how it should be.

      I’d prefer there were more efforts to block the prosecution of unjust laws, particularly in regard to the drug war, and it’d be nice if the grand jury system worked, but on the whole, we could be doing a lot worse

  3. It’s almost like the government and media collude with one another beneficially, and at the expense of the rest of us.

  4. Rudy Giuliani raised perp walks to “an art form”

    I read “an ant farm,” and it made perfect sense.

  5. I admire Popehat for calling out the stenographers Nate Raymond and David Ingram by name.

  6. Yesterday we noted the adjective-laden coverage of the Shkreli arrest in the (super-classy) Daily News.

    My favorite was the last line, which seems to have little/nothing to do with Securities Fraud, or even any relevant backstory….

    “The misogynist CEO then outraged hip hop fans when he said he has no plans to stream the new Wu-Tang album after he bought the sole copy for seven figures.”

    Outraged? Don’t say. I’m sure they are consoling themselves in the meantime with repeat-listens of Iron Flag & 8 Diagrams.

    I confess = i’ve wanted to punch the guy since his smirky mug first appeared in the news. But that was completely separate from his Wu-Hoardery, or his bulbous, lugubrious, phlegmatic misogyny. He just looks very punchy.

  7. Ahh….Daily News… once you open it… it just *sucks you in*

    Paging Crusty Juggler

    1. Crusty lost his pager. You don’t want to know how.

  8. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: read the police report in your morning paper or watch it on the TV news and you’re going to hear a lot of “according to police so-and-so was arrested for such-and-such an offense” and not one goddamn time are you ever going to hear “we spoke with so-and-so down at the county jail who claims he was arrested for some bullshit made-up charge he has no idea what the hell for, he was just hanging out minding his own business when these pigs started hassling him for no reason”. Nor are you ever going to hear “according to police so-and-so was arrested for such-and-such an offense but they really aren’t sure they got the right guy, it may have been just some random guy they felt like fucking with.” That’s because “the news” is the press release they’re handed by the cops every morning and repeated verbatim. But they don’t tell you they’re just repeating what they were told to repeat, do they? Now, if they were to go to the jail and report the news as told by the people who got arrested instead of telling the story from the cops’ point of view, nobody would believe for one second that the arrestees weren’t lying their asses off because they’ve got every reason to lie about what happened, right? Cops have no reason to lie about whether or not they had a clean arrest and a righteous bust, do they?

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