The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Gun rights-advocating local Fox reporter has told different versions of ‘home invasion’

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In an instance of stunning journalistic transparency, WTTG-TV (Fox5) this week disclosed that chief investigative correspondent Emily Miller is a “proponent” for Second Amendment rights. An activist, in other words.

It’s a strange role for any investigative reporter, and its perils surface in a number of statements that Miller has made in recent years.

Being both a Second Amendment proponent and a local television personality has afforded Miller a great number of opportunities to explain the roots of her position on guns. On Feb. 10, for instance, the National Rifle Association, Maryland Shall Issue, the Associated Gun Clubs of Baltimore and the Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association held a lobbying day in Annapolis to fight the state’s gun controls. Miller addressed the group: “I got started a few years ago in all this because I was a victim of a home invasion,” she said. “I was dog-sitting for friends and went out to walk the dog for a few minutes and came back and there was a man inside the house robbing it. And he left, he didn’t hurt me, thank God.”

The very words “home invasion” are enough to send pacifist souls scurrying for firearms. A special report of the Justice Department notes that “‘home invasion’ has been used broadly to describe any crime committed by an individual unlawfully entering a residence while someone is home. More narrowly, home invasion has been used to describe a situation where an offender forcibly enters an occupied residence with the specific intent of robbing or violently harming those inside.” Though definitions vary, the term delivers terror: “A home invasion to me in sort of the vernacular of the times means someone forcibly comes in while you’re inside,” says Jason Kalafat, a partner with the law firm Price Benowitz LLP. “You are actually in the danger zone.”

For a more vivid picture of just what happened to Miller, watch this “NRA All Access” video, which features a reenactment of the crime. It depicts a dog being walked, a burglar and a scary nighttime encounter. Miller narrates: “I was dog-sitting for a friend at their house. And I took the dog for a walk, and in the time that I was gone, a man — the police believed to be a drug addict — got into the house and started robbing it. So when I came back into the house, he was in there robbing. He took my wallet, but I was able to talk him out of the house without hurting me, thank God.”

It’s an ideal advertisement for gun ownership.

Less ideal is the account that Miller wrote in October 2011 in the Washington Times: “It was New Year’s Day 2010, and I’d been staying in the house to dog sit for friends who were on vacation. I’d returned from walking the dog when I saw a man coming from the house,” writes Miller.

Bold text added to highlight a considerable discrepancy: For the NRA and gun rights advocates, Miller speaks of a “home invasion,” of being stuck inside with an intruder; in a column for the Washington Times, she writes of an encounter outside of the house. The Washington Times piece was part of a successful series titled “Emily Gets Her Gun,” in which Miller tours D.C.’s restrictive gun laws and regulations. People noticed her work, and she converted the reporting into a book with a similar title — “Emily Gets Her Gun…But Obama Wants to Take Yours.” In that book, Miller writes, “The slow-moving dog and I went down a private driveway along the woods, then turned around and came back to the house in about ten minutes. As I got inside the yard gate, I saw a man coming from the house,” she notes, adding that the man claimed to have arrived to clean the pool. “At that point I wasn’t scared, just surprised and confused.”

To judge from the police report stemming from the incident, that appears spot-on. According to the report, the incident took place between 3:15 p.m. and 3:25 p.m. on New Year’s Day 2010 — in daylight, unlike the gloomy NRA reenactment. Yet the report wasn’t filed until many hours later, because Miller didn’t realize right away that the person had actually entered the house. When her credit card company called her later that night, it hit her: “A wave of fear washed over me as I realized that the ‘pool guy’ had been deep into the house by the time I caught him,” she writes in her book.

That night, Miller pushed a dresser against the door in the bedroom and braved out an anguished night. “For the first time in my life, I thought, if I just had a gun on the nightstand, I know I would have a chance at defending myself if those men came in and tried to rape or murder me,” she writes in the book.

The “narrative” section of the D.C. police report reads, in part, “R-1 reports while housesitting at the above listed location and between the listed times, unknown subject(s) entered the residence by an unknown manner.” Feeling safe in this Northwest D.C. neighborhood, Miller had left the door unlocked. The document describes this criminal “event” under the category of “Burglary Two,” or second-degree burglary. In the words of D.C. criminal defense lawyer Kalafat, the classification has a definite meaning: “Burglary two is where someone is not actually inside the dwelling,” he says. “It stands to reason that the information provided to [the police] is that she was not inside at the time it happened.” (See the D.C. Code’s definition of burglary here).

The house where Miller was dog-sitting belongs to Jack Quinn, a D.C. lawyer and chairman and co-founder of QGA Public Affairs. Though Quinn cautions that the crime occurred several years ago, “My impression has always been he was leaving as she was coming in,” he tells the Erik Wemple Blog. “I do know that it was rather terrifying.” Unquestionably. That Miller felt compelled to protect herself against home invaders is her business, as is the means that she has employed to do so. The bureaucratic travels that she documented in the series “Emily Gets Her Gun” made for highly readable stuff.

That said, as a representative of WTTG, Miller has an obligation to the truth, not to a choose-your-own-adventure approach to her personal history. Her recollections of the New Year’s Day trauma bifurcate:

*She told CNN in 2012, “I was home during a home invasion and I had to spend the night in that house. If I had a gun by the bed I would feel so much safer.”

*She told a mixed story to C-SPAN in February 2013: “I was the victim of a home invasion. I was dog-sitting for friends at a house in Washington….And I came back and there was a man coming out of the house.”

*She told Lou Dobbs of the Fox Business Network in September 2013: “Yes, I walked in and found basically a thug, drug addict in my house stealing my wallet. It’s all he got away with. And thank God, you know, he did not hurt me. I unfortunately chased him down the street to get a picture, which I’ve learned from police is not a smart idea, I do not recommend — 15 of his buddies standing around two pickup trucks. That’s when I called the police and I got away.”

*She told Politico in September 2013: “I had never shot a gun before in my life, but I came home, and I was dog-sitting for a friend, and I walked in the house, and there was this thug, thief in the house, and like 15 of his buddies were outside on the driveway.”

*She said in a December 2013 speech: “When I walked back into the house with a dog, there was a man in there robbing it. And he robbed me, he took my wallet and by the grace of God, didn’t hurt me physically.” (In the Washington Times, Miller wrote that the thief didn’t take the wallet — just cash and credit cards.)

Inside, outside: What’s the difference? For the gun lobby to which Miller has hitched her career, it is large. Nothing animates lobbying pushes quite like the story of a criminal invading the home of a law-abiding citizen.

The stunning part of the story is that Miller has strayed from a set of facts that she laid out in black and white in the Washington Times years ago. Why would she squeeze the story for additional terror? We’ve asked Miller’s publicist for an interview on the matter but haven’t heard back. We’ve also reached out directly to Miller and her boss. Absent their input, the migration of Miller’s story from a terrifying front-yard encounter to an unthinkably terrifying home invasion stands as a warning sign to journalists who become too beholden to a cause. Facts suffer when you seek to please an audience.