Cable news networks on Friday broadcast live footage from inside the rental home of the couple identified as the shooters in this week’s deadly attack in San Bernardino, showing viewers intimate details of the family’s daily life.
While inside the Redlands, Calif., property, MSNBC showed reporter Kerry Sanders poking through a bedroom closet and sifting through pictures, including at least one of a child.
“Let’s make sure we don’t see the children,” said Andrea Mitchell, as the photograph was shown. “Let’s not show the child, Kerry. Let’s cut away from that.”
During the broadcast, MSNBC also displayed a driver’s license, a crib and shredded paper inside a waste bin.
The decision to broadcast live from the home — and, in particular, MSNBC’s broadcast of personal, identifiable items found inside — shocked many viewers, including some journalists, who found the spectacle of reporters and photographers rifling through photo albums and identifying documents jarring.
Doyle Miller, the home’s landlord, told The Washington Post that the FBI had “released the property” to him, and that he then decided to allow one media organization — which he did not specify — to tour the site. Others then “stormed in,” he said, speaking outside the low-slung two-story property. Miller said he was allowing others, including The Post, access to the home “for now.”
Department of Justice officials confirmed the crime scene was closed down and the landlord was free to do anything with the home.
“Once we turn that location back over to the occupants of that residence, or once we board it up, anyone who goes in at that point, it’s not up to us,” David Bowdich, assistant director of the FBI’s Los Angeles office, said at a Friday press conference.
MSNBC and CNN defended their handling of the footage.
“MSNBC and other news organizations were invited into the home by the landlord after law enforcement officials had finished examining the site and returned control to the landlord,” MSNBC said in a statement. “Although MSNBC was not the first crew to enter the home, we did have the first live shots from inside. We regret that we briefly showed images of photographs and identification cards that should not have been aired without review.”
CNN was also at the house, which had been rented by Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the couple authorities say was behind Wednesday’s attack.
“CNN, like many other news organizations, was granted access to the home by the landlord,” a CNN spokesperson said in an email to The Post. “We made a conscious editorial decision not to show close-up footage of any material that could be considered sensitive or identifiable, such as photos or ID cards.”
Fourteen people were killed during the attack at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino earlier this week, authorities say. Malik and Farook later died in a shootout with police on the same day.
Miller, the landlord, said he had never seen Tashfeen Malik. He said Syed Farook was a “normal person,” but said he didn’t know much about the couple. The couple’s baby was already born at the time they moved in, he said.
Kelly McBride, a media ethicist and vice president at Poynter, a journalism institute, told The Post that the live broadcasts like Friday’s amounted to “an act of voyeurism instead of journalism.”
Assuming they had legal permission to be there, it was “perfectly reasonable” for reporters to go in the home and gather information, McBride said. But part of their ethical obligation to the public includes providing context for that information. “Broadcasting live precludes that,” she added.
“If you consider the journalist who’s standing on the threshold of this property, his primary duty is to inform his audience to the best that he is able with information that is accurate, verified, and in context,” McBride said.
But that’s only the first step. She said journalists also must figure out “what portions of that information are relevant and how they’re relevant. And that takes another level of reporting from outside of the house.”
McBride was also concerned that the live broadcasts would have a negative impact on public trust.
“I am sure that the public is looking at journalists going through anybody’s home — even a couple that is now universally despised as this — as a tawdry act. And I think that’s unfortunate,” she said. “There’s this image of journalists as lurking around trying to pick up any piece of dirt they can on anybody. This certainly reinforces that.”
On Thursday, reporters continued to crowd into the small apartment, filming and taking photographs, until Doyle’s wife asked them to leave. Someone then came and drilled a wood-like cover onto the door. The crowd dispersed after that.
[This story has been updated.]
Missy Ryan contributed from San Bernardino, Ca. Sari Horwitz contributed from Washington.