Cable news networks on Friday broadcastlive 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 property in Redlands, Calif., 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 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.”
Justice Department officials confirmed that the crime scene was closed down and the landlord was free to do anything he wished.
“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 news conference.
MSNBC and CNN defended their handling of the broadcasts..
“Although MSNBC was not the first crew to enter the home, we did have the first live shots from inside,” MSNBC said in a statement, adding that it had the permission of the landlord to enter. “We regret that we briefly showed images of photographs and identification cards that should not have been aired without review.”
CNN also was 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 e-mail. “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 said. Malik and Farook later died in a shootout with police on the same day.
Miller, the landlord, said he had never seen Malik. He said 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 those on Friday amounted to “an act of voyeurism instead of journalism.”
Assuming that 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.”
On Thursday, reporters continued to crowd into the small apartment, filming and taking photographs, until Miller’s wife asked them to leave. Someone then came and drilled a wood-like cover onto the door. The crowd dispersed after that.
Missy Ryan in San Bernardino, Calif., and Sari Horwitz in Washington contributed to this report.