Judge slaps ban on Newsweek and reporter who ID’d juror in a tweet.
Twitter is like that popular girl you didn’t trust but you made friends with anyway. Her friendship got you a place at the cool cafeteria table, but one bad move and you were stuck by yourself with your sack lunch.
A respected and experienced Newsweek reporter made a bad move on Twitter Thursday in the mad scramble to report the theater shooting trial verdict. Now Nina Burleigh is taking her lumps over a split-second decision social media blunder.
Judge Carlos Samour put out an official order banning her and any other Newsweek reporter from the courthouse for the duration of the trial.
“Newsweek and its reporters should have known better,” he wrote.
Juror 737’s voice was trembling yesterday as he told a closed courtroom that he had been ID’ed in the tweet by Newsweek. The tweet had a link to a story, which also ID’ed him, on the guilty verdict rendered by the jury. His name was tweeted in cyberspace and then broadcast over and over.
These jurors have a serious job to do in these next couple of weeks. They are deciding whether the convicted theater shooter will die for killing 12 people and injuring 70 three years ago. The extra stress now that many people know his name is likely keeping 737 up at night.
The defense is livid about the gaffe. Holmes’ attorneys are likely worried that 737 will lose his objectivity. Anonymity breeds security; but, now that the light is shining on him, there may be invisible pressure to vote for the shooter’s death because that’s what society wants for him to do.
James Holmes public defenders know he is a pariah. During jury selection, they specifically asked prospective jurors if they would have any qualms about making the unpopular decision of letting him live out his life in prison as opposed to killing him.
“This will be an appellate issue,” predicts former prosecutor Bob Grant. “I’m surprised the judge didn’t put somebody in jail.”
The broader issue is how we as journalists deal with the powerful tattletale that is Twitter.
The answer — we need to think before we tweet.
The immediacy of Twitter is a temptation for reporters who want to be first. Our editors encourage us to get the word out right away. But is five minutes of thought and cross-checking really all that long? If you are the only one to break the news, why the worry that someone else will beat you?
And if a dozen other journalists are scrambling to be first with the same news, then who cares if you’re sixth? It’s not worth getting the facts wrong.
It’s ironic that this would happen to Juror 737. He is perhaps the most unlikely juror, as he is a Columbine survivor who was once close to the the killers; and after that friendship lapsed, ended up taking one of the victims to prom the week before she was killed. F
Further, he is not just one of the 12, he is the foreman. He knows about the media. He knows about mental illness. He knows about tragedy. And he does know about how the media works because Columbine was an international story for months.
It’s true, there are more important issues. Like death and vengeance and mental illness and guns and sorrow and loss. Newsweek’s Nina Burleigh is not the person on trial here. But on a slow day at the courthouse as the jury deliberates the aggravating factors in phase 1, it’s worth taking a look at the roll that Twitter is taking on our profession and how we can from finding ourselves ashamed and feeling responsible when our only real responsibility as journalists is to be a messenger.