Reporters and Ill-Advised Security Reporting Tactics

There’s something about a WET PAINT sign that overwhelms good sense and manners. We have to test it.


There’s something about a WET PAINT sign that overwhelms good sense and manners. We have to test it. 

The same thing afflicts reporters after some high-profile breach of security makes the news. We wonder if we could challenge local insecurities and produce a prize-winning story. Otherwise, why do so many — often TV — journalists do such stupid things?  

For instance, construction at the site of the World Trade Center draws attempted intrusions since the twin towers were destroyed on 9/11.

Reuters said a teenager with a camera was arrested after evading capture by security at night and getting to the 104th floor of One World Trade Center, the nation’s tallest structure. 

Days later, Reuters said, four men were arrested for a late-night parachute jump from the top of One World Trade Center after sneaking through a hole in a fence.

That was too much for CNN. In journalism, two of anything establishes a trend that must be reported.

Two CNN producers (TV for “reporters”) tried to enter the main gate shortly after lunch one day, saying they wanted to report on those recent security lapses. Eschewing deception, they told the guard that if a 16-year-old were able to get in, then so should they.

One held a video camera, the other had a video camera strapped to his head.

Rebuffed, one of the CNN producers twice failed to climb the perimeter fence. A few minutes later, police caught the men attempting to force their way through an electronic gate and arrested them.

CNN confirmed that its producers were there to report on construction site security, but they “were not asked to sneak onto the WTC site. They were in the surrounding area to do a story about the recent incidents at the WTC and other sites and the notion that daredevils are being drawn to them.”

So how did the kid manage what two CNN producers couldn’t? “He had enough sense to try it at 4 o’clock in the morning,” said Joseph Pentangelo, a spokesman for the Port Authority Police Department.

CNN’s men pleaded not guilty to burglary, reckless endangerment and unauthorized jumping from a structure. They face a maximum of between five and 15 years in prison if convicted.

After Adam Lanza shot his way into Stony Hook elementary school and killed 26 students, teachers and staff, school officials all over the country announced tighter security. 

That event and the responses were an Olympian WET PAINT sign to news media. Here’s a sample of reporters’ missteps ranging from brain dead to seriously inept.

Reporter Mellaney Moore walked unchallenged into three elementary schools in Fargo, Moorehead and East Fargo on the Minnesota/Dakota border. Valley News Live KVLY-KXJB  broadcast her hidden camera report.

She escaped certain conviction for criminal trespass when her station agreed to bar her from school stories in all three cities for 90 days. Embarrassed school officials said they’d press charges if she trespasses again in 2014.

“In the name of supposedly reporting a vulnerability, you’re also advertising it for those that may not have known,” her station quoted West Fargo Schools Superintendent David Flowers as saying. 

St. Louis’ reported a similar “test” by Gannett’s KSDK-TV that went awry in Kirkwood High School. A KSDK staff member walked in, asked to speak to security, then apparently left. The school had no buzzers at the unlocked entrance, KSDK said. 

That triggered a 40-minute lockdown with ripples throughout the community. The lockdown ended when no stranger was found and, apparently, school officials figured out who the visitor was.

Aware of the community/social media anger it stirred, KSDK stood by its reporting. “This lockdown certainly was not the intent of our visit. … NewsChannel 5 will continue to be vigilant when it comes to the safety of our schools and your children within.” 

Hardly contrite, the station asked “why the Kirkwood lockdown took place an hour after the reporter left the school building.”

Kirkwood school district spokeswoman Ginger Cayce was more generous than some: “We learned some things from this, but we are still dismayed that a call was not given after to let us know this was a test. We could have prevented the alarm to our parents, students and staff.”

Not to be outdone, NBC bragged that its reporters walked around inside several New York-area schools, raising questions about security as the anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre approached.

NBC said its reporter entered a New Jersey school without giving a name. “Unescorted, he went looking for the main office, per school policy,” NBC’s website said. “As he looked, he walked past several classrooms with kids, stopping at one to ask a teacher for directions. No one asked who he was or what he was doing there. For two minutes, he walked through the halls and was only stopped once he arrived at the office.”

“This is incredibly problematic,” said Sal Lifrieri, a former director of security at the New York City Office of Emergency Management, who saw the NBC intruder’s video. “Something like this, two minutes of not being challenged, it’s just too much harm you could have caused if you really had intent.”

Responses were better at four schools, NBC conceded. Its reporter was asked for identification and kept away from children and classrooms. The reporter “was buzzed in after identifying himself at one school, and was escorted straight to the principal’s office. At another, a guard intercepted him outside the building and asked for identification.”

But in New York City, local station WNBC said reporter Jonathan Vigliotti was able to enter seven of 10 schools without being challenged. “I had a harder time getting into my friend’s apartment building,” Vigliotti said.

At one school, Vigliotti said, he was able to bypass the metal detector, roam the hallways and enter a gym full of kids. Approached later, the guard at the metal detector was surprised to learn Vigliotti hadn’t signed in. “Wow,” said the guard. “I thought you were a teacher.”

Maybe the late Iron Chancellor, Otto von Bismark, was correct when he reportedly said, “God looks after drunks, fools and the United States of America.”

CONTACT BEN L. KAUFMAN: [email protected]

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