August 16th, 2008 Heather Kovar
You get the call.
Adrenaline sets in.
You are live in an hour or two, hoping police will talk soon as you frantically gather sound from neighbors. “I just don’t know how something like this could happen to such a good person.”
Day to day reporters are pretty much thrown out there to gather all they can.
When reporters follow a murder or other crime story for a period of time, expectations of accuracy and a complete coverage of facts are higher.
However, Correspondent Erin Moriarty of 48 Hours, says it’s not just getting the facts of a case correct that matters.
“It is also a matter of fairly characterizing the individuals involved. Here’s the rule I use: If my daughter was murdered, how would I want the “uncomfortable” facts reported?”
I spoke with her in early July just after prosecutors decided not to retry Martin Tankleff for the 1988 killing of his parents. Just last week an updated report was posted on CBS. See it here.
Moriarty is the co-author of Death of Dream with Paul LaRosa.
As for the Tankleff decision, Moriarty says she was relieved that the New York Attorney General’s office completed it’s investigation of the case and asked that the indictments be dropped against Marty Tankleff.
“Although he was not officially exonerated, the memorandum filed in support of the motion made it clear that there is little evidence pointing to his guilt and a great deal of evidence pointing elsewhere. It even contains some new facts and evidence that, even after working on this case for five years, we were unaware of.”
“This case has been a reminder to me, much like the Richard Jewel case, just how wary reporters need to be of adopting the police or prosecutor’s view. Twenty years ago, local reporters parroted the official view that 17-year-old Marty Tankleff was a spoiled rich kid who killed his parents to get an early inheritance. Not one reporter bothered to find out the facts: that Marty wouldn’t inherit a dime until he was 25-years-old and that he was aware of the fact. So rather than investigate the case and question whether the police had the right suspect, reporters became a cheering section for the prosecution. ( Ignoring the fact that there were other suspects that had far more to gain by Seymour and Arlene’s deaths.)”
In a previous NYPC posting about the book, I promised some words from Ms. Moriarty on her coverage of the Catherine Woods murder. It’s a case she says she was disappointed in the local media.
“I cover primarily murder cases so I have to know the evidence and facts of a case as well (and hopefully, better) than the attorneys working on the case. We interview as many people connected with the case as we can . In fact, while reporting on the Catherine Woods murder, we interviewed the band members who worked with Paul Cortez but had never been interviewed by the police. When we discovered and reported that Cortez missed a practice scheduled the night and hour of Catherine’s murder, suddenly the band leader became a crucial witness for the prosecution.”
“I have never been more disappointed with local coverage as I was with the Paul Cortez case. Not only was the victim reduced to a “stripper” in the stories (the case became “the stripper murder case”), but Cortez was convicted in the press before he even went to trial. Print reporters in particular took “leaks” from the police and turned them into fact. I don’t believe that even the pressures of a daily news deadline, justify the errors and stereotypes reported in that case.”
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