Sunday, January 23, 2011

What Does WTAE Think About Ashlie Hardway's E-Mail To Police Showing Up In A Warrant Application?

The Slagger reports that a warrant associated with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police's intergalactic search for clues concerning what city authorities the police union appears to regard as the crime of the century hinged on receipt (from Channel 4's Ashlie Hardway) of a forwarded e-mail.

(Curiously, the WTAE report of the raid -- no byline -- states that "police didn't say what led them to the computer at the Dreaming Ant store," so the public should thank the City Paper for revealing that what WTAE omitted from its report was that it was a WTAE employee who led police to that computer.)

Was Ms. Hardway acting as a journalist (covering a story, seeking information from the police for the public) or as the wife of a police officer (responding to a police request for information from her newsroom) when she forwarded that message?

The answer could depend on whether she is a journalist. Whether there would be a place for her in a legitimate news organization could depend on the answer.

UPDATE: City Paper reporter Chris Young deserves credit for reporting the curious contents of the warrant application.

Infinonytune: I Heard It Through The Grapevine, Creedence Clearwater Revival


Vannevar said...

wow. a few questions come to mind.

1. Do people know that when you give info to WTAE they forward it to the police? That's going to help the newsroom.

2. What j-school sold her a certificate? Do they cover "protecting your source"?

3. Is there anybody in the local media/government that isn't invested in maintaining the FOP and the status quo?

4. Chris Potter is the 2011 Journalist of the Year in Pittsburgh.

MH said...

Maybe you know more than is listed in the linked articles, but if you don't, I'd be slow to accuse a journalist of nefarious purposes for forwarding a press release. If a journalist gets a press release, forwarding it to somebody to ask for comment/clarification/etc. is a perfectly reasonable course of action. Compared to the most common course of action, cutting and pasting it into the "news", it is responsible journalism. Maybe she deliberately forwarded it after the investigation started, but you haven't even given a hint about that beyond noting that she was married to the po-po. Except that forwarded a press release to your spouse, if it concerned his work, is very common. As is forwarding a joke that you thought was funny. Second, and this is only to Vannevar's comment, "protecting your source" is not at all applicable in this situation. It is something that only applies if the journalist accepts it before you send them the information.

You can't just e-mail a dozen people with no notice and expect them to treat you like Deep Throat, especially if you write "Press Release" on what you send. That's what people write on things they want journalists to repeat.

I suppose nobody is being reasonable out this, so why should you? But, still if you don't have any actual evidence, maybe a little calm wouldn't hurt.

Infinonymous said...

It is curious that a newsroom employee's e-mail would wind up supporting a warrant application.

It is especially curious when that newsroom reports it has no idea what led police to the location for which a warrant was sought.

It is exceptionally curious when the relevant employee is married to a police officer.

What information (header, sender, attachment, etc.) was provided to the police by the WTAE newsroom? Why? When? How and why did Ashlie Hardway obtain the e-mail? Was this her customary beat? Was she directly involved in covering the story when she sent an e-mail to police? Did she use her WTAE account to send the e-mail? What did police ask her to do? Who contacted whom?

Perhaps the answers to the obvious questions would vindicate Ashlie Hardway's work and standing as a journalist.

A legitimate news organization would provide those answers (just as it would pursue answers from others).

The information currently available to the public indicates it's Ashlie Hardway's (and Alex Bongiorno's) move.

Vannevar said...

re MH @ 8:32 on "protecting your source" - I think you make a good point re my comment.

MH said...

It was Vannevar that really set me off. Though I disagree with your emphasis, you do allow that she could have forwarded it for legitimate reasons. While a legitimate news organization is transparent about its operations, I doubt it would occur to many people to explain that something marked "Press Release" was not treated as confidential information. Presumably, the pranksters knew as much also.

Here's An Idea said...

pretty sure on two things

1.Your computer is probably next on the hit list

2.The Post Gazette should hire you

Keep asking those questions Infi, somebody's gotta do it

Infinonymous said...

No worries, mate, on any of those points

Felix Dzerzhinsky said...

If she forwarded the press release to the police to get comment, that would serve a legitimate journalistic purpose. After all, it did purport to come from the FOP.

However, if she forwarded the e-mail to the police with headers in order to reveal the original sender's IP address, then that is an ethical violation for which she should be terminated, especially given her marriage to a police officer. I wouldn't hold my breath on the network seeing it as the ethical violation it is, though.

It seems pretty unlikely that she would have unintentionally forwarded the e-mail with full headers. Whose e-mail client defaults to forward "full headers," anyway? And is it possible to extract the IP address from the press release itself? I haven't seen that.

Infinonymous said...

The publicly available information does not support conclusions; it has raised questions that deserve answers. Perhaps the City Paper would be kind enough to publish the warrant application, which could clarify a few points.

MH said...

The more I think about this, the less I agree with the post. I mean, I agree that the best outcome would be that the police don't figure out who did the prank and that it shouldn’t be investigated. And that even if there was something more substantial that should be investigated, another law enforcement agency should do the investigation. But, I don’t see how a journalist should be required to consider all of that when dealing with a piece of e-mail that was unsolicited and sent to many people.

Like nearly everyone alive, I get dozens of unsolicited e-mails a week. Ninety nine out of a hundred are unwanted even if you don’t count the obvious frauds. Baring special circumstances, I am unwilling to say that somebody else should be held to a rule that I wouldn’t live with myself. And I am not about to bind myself to a rule that gives anybody who can type my address correctly leverage over my future actions. That includes the right not to appreciate every joke that is forwarded to me and to wonder who is actually sending stuff to me. And, though I thought this joke was funny, I do not accept that I be required to participate in somebody else’s joke without my consent.

I’m not saying that a journalist is in exactly the same position as I am, but I don’t feel those differences are deciding in a case like this where the e-mail was labeled “Press Release.” There are many ways to get a message to a journalist that are nearly untraceable and this has nothing to do with that.

Infinonymous said...

A newsroom employee who responds to a police request by providing information about a newsroom source (even an unsolicited source) outside the pure newsgathering function is many things; a journalist is not among them. Exceptional circumstances could warrant a departure from this general rule, but in this case the circumstances (unhinged police pursuing a self-interested vendetta on a comically lame foundation, a newsroom employee married to a police officer) cut the other way.

(There is an indication -- from Texas -- that this is not the first time this newsroom employee's unusual exchange of information with police has generated questions.)

A newsroom that engages in such conduct is many things; a legitimate journalistic enterprise is not among them.

So far, more questions than answers. But they are questions that demand answers if this newsroom and its employee are to be considered honorable and professional. Let's hope WTAE and its employee are honorable and professional enough to provide answers.

MH said...

So far, more questions than answers.

So far, there are more accusations than questions.

Infinonymous said...


A warrant application featuring a newsroom e-mail to police is analogous to a 25-year-old's body found in someone else's car. Many innocent explanations are possible -- heart attack, self-inflicted wound, reaction to prescription medication, etc. -- but the event warrants questions and skepticism concerning the vehicle's owner, at least until the owner answers some serious questions.

Anybody who doesn't see serious questions here either is willfully averting eyes from evidence or does not understand the simplest points about journalism.

We need more information; the available evidence has reassigned the burden of persuasion to Ms. Hardway and WTAE.

The warrant application could begin to clarify the situation.

Anonymous said...

Wikipedia has a great and very informative article about the Fraternal Order of Police. Everyone should read it.

Anonymous said...

It seems that the hyperlink feature is not enabled on this blog. Here is the link to the Fraternal Order of Police

MH said...

Infi, shame on your for disabling hyperlinks.

MH said...

And for enabling the "automatic 'r' after 'you'" feature.

Infinonymous said...


MH said...

Anyway, I've actually worked as a journalist, if you count a college newspaper. You probably shouldn't, but it was a daily and my editors all went on to be professional journalists. Not once did anybody treat a press release as a "source" with rights. You have to bring actual information to a journalist before those rules start to apply.

I assume that, just given the number of people this was going to be mailed to, the pranksters took a few simple steps to protect their ID. Nothing sent to more than a couple of people doesn't get forwarded to somebody, even if not the police.

MH said...

Just to be clear, I was joking about the links. If you look at the HTML, Anon skipped the whole href= part of the thing.

Infinonymous said...

The press release was not a source.

The person who provided the press release was.

The next time WTAE desires to claim that it considers its outtakes or reporter notes confidential, this episode could constitute a problem.