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The Message

About Face

In an e-mail, Rocky managing editor Deb Goeken explains that the shots of Bailey found in the Post's bulldog and Sunday paper were two reasons a debate about the photo "never made it up the ladder in any formal decision-making process." The wording of Lopez's November 6 communiqué came into play as well. According to Goeken, "The assistant city editor who works Sundays says he recalls a police-department press release that had been sent Saturday with a note attached asking that the photo not be used because the lineups weren't complete. But he said it was his impression that the note was addressed to the TV stations."

Indeed, the release stresses "the importance of refraining from showing this suspect's picture at any time during your newscasts." Nonetheless, Lopez finds this rationale unconvincing. "Come on," she says. "They can twist it, but they know what it means. When you really think about it, what's the difference between it being on TV and being in the paper?"

For Sergeant Calvin Hemphill, who's supervising the Bailey investigation, any distinction was insignificant. "He came up to me on Monday and said, 'What happened here? Do you realize the impact this is going to have on this case?'" Lopez recounts. "I said, 'I do, sir. But apparently it didn't matter to a variety of media outlets. '"

For their part, journalists believe there are times when it's proper to not grant the authorities' wishes. The Post's Clark writes that "it's the duty of police and prosecutors to make sure their investigation is thorough and that potential witnesses are positive of their identification of a suspect and are not simply reacting to a published photo. It's our duty to show readers what is happening on the streets of their city in a high-interest case." The Rocky's Goeken sings a similar tune, asserting that "our starting point would always be a bias toward presenting all public information on important public-safety cases to our readers." Channel 31's Dallman adds, "We'll make our own decisions," and Channel 9's Dennis maintains that "the public's need to know has to weigh in big."

Striking the proper balance got even trickier for Dennis as time marched forward. Investigative reporter Paula Woodward landed an on-camera interview with Bailey on November 15, before the DPD had announced a policy shift. Luckily, the cops lifted their sanction against face time the next day, in time for the station to score a notable scoop.

Since the media's zeal for dispensing data as soon as possible inherently conflicts with the police's desire to control the flow of information, their interests will continue to collide, despite Lopez's best efforts. "A lot of officers are already apprehensive about members of the media," she says. "When something like this happens, it makes it that much tougher." As a result, she goes on, "We're asking ourselves how we can prevent this from occurring again, and if there's anything we can do other than rely on personal integrity."

Her answer? "I don't know. I don't know."

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