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.