On live television Friday, journalists entered the Redlands, Calif., apartment of Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the couple who carried out this week’s shooting in San Bernardino that killed at least 14 people.
At first, reporters said they had been given permission to do so by the building’s landlord, and that officials had already gathered all the evidence needed for any investigation.
But when news networks began broadcasting from within the apartment, many on social media began to cry foul.
MSNBC caught the brunt of the backlash. And the network later apologized for broadcasting images of Farook’s mother’s drivers licenses and Social Security cards found in the apartment, as well as family photos.
Some of the critique of the broadcasts came from journalists themselves.
NPR’s David Folkenflik reported that later in the day, the landlord of the building said he did not give all of the journalists in the apartment permission to enter. And there were other reports that the landlord was actually paid $1,000 to let some people in.
In a few hours, after #MSNBC became a trending topic along with #MuslimApartment. Many Muslims took to Twitter to share images from inside their own apartments, making the point that a lot of what was found inside was pretty innocuous.
The broadcasts from the apartment, the reactions to the footage and the #MuslimApartment hashtag highlight a few themes.
First, journalists are often under intense pressure to get any scoop they can during breaking news events — first and fast. And sometimes that pressure can lead to behavior the public might see as unsavory. [Full disclosure: NPR had a staffer on the scene as well. He did not use footage or audio from inside the apartment in his reporting.]
Second, media criticism happens in real time. The court of public opinion deems winners, losers, right and wrong today in a matter of hours, if not minutes, thanks to social media.
Ultimately, these events don’t make anyone look good. Does the public have an insatiable appetite for the type information that journalists sometimes go to discouraging lengths to gather?
Is everyone involved — reporters, social media observers and the general public — too quick to judge in these types of breaking news events? Do trending hashtags like #MSNBC or #MuslimApartment do anything to solve whatever problems might lie under the surface of Friday’s events?
At least right now, it’s hard to tell.