Extra! Print newspaper reports politicians' arrest before it happens
In the predawn hours of this morning, as the yellow trucks carrying today's editions of the New York Post were just being dispatched across the city to deliver the paper to newsstands all over the five boroughs, reporters for the newspaper were already camped outside City Councilman Dan Halloran's home in Auburndale, Queens in time to witness "agents [drive] up in four unmarked cars and spread out to cover front and back entrances before raiding the councilman’s place."
"Halloran’s dog could be heard barking throughout the episode," according to a report posted to the paper's website at 5:59 a.m. this morning.
Halloran, as the reporters already knew, was to be arrested in a sting operation focusing on his alleged collaboration in a scheme to use bribes to rig the 2013 mayoral election in favor of fellow Queens resident and state Senator Malcolm Smith. It was, in fact, already plastered across the front page of their newspaper, billed as an "exclusive" in white type on a little red bar. An angry photo of Smith accompanied a giant headline that read "MAYOR RACE 'BRIBE' PLOT."
That hot-off-the-presses exclusive was posted online at the Post's website only after cops arrived at Halloran and Smith's houses, and the front page was visible, as always, at the website for Newseum, a Washington-based museum of journalism that posts the front pages of hundreds of newspapers from around the world, promptly at 6:30 a.m. Print editions of the Post generally reach Queens-area stores around 6:30 a.m., about a half an hour after agents and reporters converged on Halloran and Smith's houses.
A Post reporter was on hand to ask Halloran about his arrest:
“I have no idea,” Halloran, in handcuffs, told a Post reporter when asked if he knew why he was being arrested.
“I’m sure the truth will come out once I have an opportunity to find out what’s going on.”
The raid on Smith's house, 10 miles away, was also amply covered by press who were there before cops arrived.
"At Smith’s home, two F.B.I. agents led the grim-faced senator—in a business suit—from a back door to an unmarked car," reads the Post's online report, which is an extended version of the original print article that would have reached the Post's printers no later than 2 a.m., four hours earlier. "Three FBI agents spent more than 30 minutes inside the home before arresting the powerful pol. A woman inside the home refused to open the door for a reporter."
Over at The New York Times, only the website had the story; but there, intrepid news photographer Robert Stolarik was able to catch Smith being driven away in the back of an unmarked black car. It's unclear from the Times report whether reporters and photographers managed to get to the site in the 30 minutes it took for the arrest to transpire or, like the Post reporters, already knew what they were there for.
Reached on his cell phone, Halloran's spokesman Kevin Ryan said he had no comment on the arrests or the substance of the allegations.
On the question of when or whether Halloran knew that he was a target of the investigation before he was arrested, Ryan said, "I don't have any comment about it. All I know about it is just what I'm seeing in the news, like you are. I first heard about it in the news."
Asked whether it was fair to assume that Halloran was similarly in the dark until he was arrested, Ryan said he had "absolutely no idea."
Calls to Smith's district and legislative offices went directly to voice mail, but his spokesman released the following comment: "The Senator has record of 13 years of dedication, hard work and integrity to the people he serves in Queens. He has provided to the heath, safety and well-being of the almost 20 million residents in New York. He will be vindicated when the all the facts in the case are revealed."
The New York field office of the F.B.I., reached this morning, said they would have no comment on how details of the investigation and the planned arrests had leaked to the New York Post but not, apparently, to the accused politicians; asked the same question, Ellen Davis, Counsel and Chief Public Information Officer for the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement, "We abhor leaks and we have no idea where these leaks came from."
The whole operation speaks volumes about the way high-profile arrests are carried out in New York, especially since Rudolph Giuliani helmed the Southern District office in the 1980s.
Taking a leaf from J. Edgar Hoover's book, Giuliani's office was known for a tight relationship with local media in which he was able to organize spectacular public arrests that could be carried live on television and would appear the next day in prominent positions in part because of the gruesome photography of shocked traders and bankers being led out of their homes or offices under the glare of camera flashes, the last to know.
And while it's unclear from the original print version of the Post story where the leak about the investigation came from last night, current U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has been criticized for blasting media with news of arrests before, while the F.B.I. generally keeps a lower profile.
The original print version of the story in the Post, reported by Josh Margolin, describes the sources for the story throughout the article only as "sources," with no modifiers or adjectives to specify where they were from. It included details about when and where the arrests would take place, the names of everyone to be arrested, details about the complaint, and the fact that they were expected to be arraigned in White Plains federal court. It says the reporter reached F.B.I. spokesman Martin Feely "late last night," and that he declined to comment. If a call was placed to the U.S. Attorney's office, there's no mention of it in the print article that was rumbling toward newsstands as the arrests were taking place, or what the result of that call was.
The practice of perp-walking came under scrutiny recently when French newspapers decried the perp walk of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former chairman of the International Monetary Fund who was charged with the rape of a Midtown hotel chambermaid before the charges were ultimately dropped.
At the time, the Post's own Maureen Callahan wrote a column in which she interviewed former law-enforcement officials about the practice.
“There’s no question that the perp walk is nothing other than pure retribution against someone who has not yet been convicted of a crime,” a former prosecutor at the Manhattan D.A.’s office told Callahan. “It gives the inference of guilt; it’s repulsive to a sense of justice.”
Legally, the question Callahan was asking was why self-surrender is not offered to high-profile suspects in cases like this. It's doubtful that a city councilmember or a state senator poses a serious flight risk.
Ethically, it's worth wondering whether reporters who get leaked information about investigations don't feel obliged to call the suspects with news of the imminent arrest and get reactions. Obviously, that would destroy the surprise, which is what's best both for the media and for the prosecutors. It's possible to imagine lots of cases in which doing so would jeopardize an investigation, but I wonder how many reporters think that it actually compromises the likelihood of a successful arrest in cases like this, or whether in fact they aren't preferring the interests of the prosecutors to those of the accused by default, since they're better aligned with the imperative to make news.
At any rate, this all makes for some mighty compelling scene reporting about what might otherwise seem like a dry list of accusations to the regular reader.
Consider the banner the Post chose for the online version of its article, once the arrests had been photographed: "SMITH IN CUFFS," read the text, over a photo of Smith looking dead serious and unhappy in the back of a black car. It has since been changed to "MONEY GREASES THE WHEELS," a quote from Dan Halloran captured on tape during the investigation and included in the official complaint released this morning.
A side note: A source tells Capital that Daily News editor-in-chief Colin Myler, who has declared a tabloid war against his former boss and New York Post chairman Rupert Murdoch, is expected back in the newsroom today following a vacation. According to the source, News editors assume he is furious over getting beat by the Post.
-additional reporting by Josh Benson and Joe Pompeo