Dan Tang-Operation Fortune Cookie exclusive at Channel 31 not all that exclusive

Update, 12:34 p.m.: Channel 31 reporter Julie Hayden has responded to an interview request on this subject. Look below the original item to read what she has to say.

In an age of shrinking newsroom resources, media organizations are borrowing from each other more than ever before -- and that's fine as long as the original source of the information is credited via a direct mention or a link. But that doesn't always happen, as evidenced by a recent report spinning off Operation Fortune Cookie, Colorado's largest and most unusual pot bust.

Last night, Channel 31 presented a story whose web version is headlined, "Exclusive: Letter Sent to Alleged Drug Kingpin Details DEA Surveillance." Sounds impressive -- except for the fact that Westword reporter Joel Warner published the aforementioned letter in October 2009, in conjunction with a feature article on Tang and Operation Fortune Cookie.

That's not the first time something like this has happened on the Tang story.

Back on March 25, Channel 7 assembled a story about Tang that quoted the same letter and even embedded a video made for Warner's feature without mentioning Westword.

This oversight was corrected after a complaint from Westword; the current web version includes proper attribution.

No telling at this point if Channel 31 will do likewise. A call to Julie Hayden, the reporter on the piece, has not been returned at this writing. If and when it is, we'll update this post.


Update, 12:34 p.m.: According to Channel 31 reporter Julie Hayden, she obtained a copy of the aforementioned letter from Patricia Bangert, attorney for Northglenn Officer Daniel Joyce and Thornton Officer Robert Lopez, who have filed a lawsuit in relation to the Operation Fortune Cookie investigation. She says she didn't realize Westword had previously posted the letter in October. However, she remembers reading a Westword story quoting from it.

Hayden believes the word "exclusive" could still be applied to her story, because "we had the lawyer on. I don't think we said we exclusively obtained the letter."

As noted above, the headline on the web story is, "Exclusive: Letter Sent to Alleged Drug Kingpin Details DEA Surveillance." The report's first line reads, "FOX31 News has obtained a letter secretly written to a suspected drug lord, tipping him off that he was under investigation."

At any rate, Hayden says, "I don't want to quibble. You guys had the letter first, and we should not have implied that we obtained it before you did. I don't think that was our intention." She promises to ask the station's web staff to change the post to remove any assertion of exclusivity.

She adds, "I'm sure you play this game as well as I do. I think this has happened to everybody."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts