Media reporter Erik Wemple of the Washington Post got a bizarre response from the New York Times’ Philip Corbett, the paper’s associate managing editor for standards, when he asked why the Times had published information on where Officer Darren Wilson lived.
“The Times did not ‘reveal’ anything here. The name of the street was widely reported as far back as August, including in the Washington Post.”
The Post on Aug. 15 published an article on Wilson shortly after his name surfaced as the officer who’d killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. It noted the presence of “[d]ark blue unmarked police cars were parked outside his house” and mentioned the street name. A number of other outlets also traded in information about Wilson’s residence and it has been circulated on the Internet, of course.
When asked whether the standard for publication of a street name is whether others have already revealed it, Corbett replied, “We would have to look at the issue case by case. But if you’re considering whether to withhold information from a story, the question of whether that information is widely available or has been previously reported would certainly be a factor to consider.”
In any story about newlyweds who jointly own a home, it makes sense to describe where that home is located. But the street name? Such detail adds nil news value to a scoop about a man at the center of one of the most contentious news stories of our time. Leave it out.
Wemple has a great point. What was the news value in publishing the street name where Wilson lives? Who outside of the St. Louis area could even identify where the town in which Wilson lives is located, much less the street name?
Corbett is being coy. It’s very hard to justify the information published by the Times — just as it’s difficult not to believe they published the information with malice aforethought. Is the Times trying to tell us that of all the reporters and editors that read over this story before going to press, none of them raised their hand and said, “Isn’t it dangerous to publish a hated man’s address like this”?
If no one asked the question, they’re irresponsible. If someone did, they’re liable for anything that happens to Wilson.