WashPost Relents on Plainclothes Officer Holding Gun. Turns Out a Post Staffer Had Seen it With Own Eyes.
As I noted yesterday, the WashPost bit DC police claims that the plainclothes officer at the snowball fight never drew his gun -- despite photos published a couple hours earlier to the contrary. And when the Post updated its story last night, they still weren't ready to call a spade a spade.
Today, at 10:50am, Matt Zopotsky posted a new story that rights many of the wrongs. Its headline is "Snowball fight takes dangerous turn when police officer draws gun." It includes this:
Videos and photos show a D.C. police detective unholstering his gun (and admitting to it) during a confrontation with a group of snowball fighters. The video is making the rounds on the Internet and national TV stations. The detective, who authorities have not identified, on one such video says: "Yes I did," apparently referring to the fact that he drew his gun, "because I got hit with snowballs."This language basically meets what I said was necessary:
D.C. police have said they are investigating the incident. Assistant Chief Pete Newsham, who leads the department's investigative services bureau, has said the detective in question "was armed but never pulls his weapon." Photos and videos posted online appear to contradict that, though none show the detective pointing his gun at anyone.
- saying that the photos showed a gun
- that the video showed him saying "yes I did"
- reporting that the police had claimed he did not hold his gun
- including links to the photos and video
And that's troubling. Someone from the Post was there (whether on assignment or there for fun, who knows), and yet they still put up a story hours later buying the police claims that their own employee saw were not true? And they didn't update the story until 10:20 last night, and even then wouldn't outright say he had held his gun.
As for today's print edition, it doesn't have a dedicated article on the incident; just a paragraph in the main snowstorm story (the Post's coverage of the storm was relatively light: a main story, a story on shopping, and a brief item on Senators traveling through the storm to get to the capitol).
The Post used at least two different versions of language in different editions of the print story. I'm looking at an edition I picked up at a store in DC today, edition "MD DC VA S V1".
The main story in this V1 edition, which noted that "it was still snowing in the District at 9 p.m." (final version, which is online currently, says "at 10 p.m."), says this about the snowball fight:
Participants in a massive snowball fight at 14th and U streets NW were apparently confronted by a plainclothes police officer who briefly unholstered his gun. Police were investigating."Apparently" isn't the weakest word, but still.
The version of the main story in the 'final edition' (via Factiva), is a touch different:
Participants in a massive snowball fight at 14th and U streets NW were apparently confronted by a police officer in street clothes who briefly unholstered his gun, based on images that were posted online. Police said they were investigating.What we're left with is a mess. A Post staffer was at the incident, we learn today, yet they still didn't use the information he saw with his eyes until mid-morning today. And the Post was slow on a story that was getting an awful lot of attention on the Twittertubes. I want to be clear about this part: it's not that the Post or other traditional media should use Twitter/citizen information as fact, or even do a story primarily based on "reports on Twitter suggest..", since those reports could turn out to be incorrect.
But the Post and other traditional media should use the Twitter reports as a resource -- as a guide to possible breaking stories, and possible eyewtiness sources. After the USAirways crash, national tv producers and others quickly bombarded the witnesses Tweeting from the scene with interview requests -- good for them. In this case, the Post went beyond ignoring the tweeters to ignoring their competitor, the City Paper, which had published the images. Boggles the mind.
Update: Thanks City Paper for the link! (links!).