“There was a lot of press in The Boston Globe and other places about her absconding from justice,” Fisher said. “So, whether the word got out that way and somebody gave us a tip, or whether it wasn’t a media article, but a direct website view, I don’t know. But that’s one way that there’s a real role for media to publicize something that helps our cases a lot.”
It’s important to understand that press-police collaboration is not the goal and that journalists are not there to help law enforcement, however. If reporters do an investigation into something illegal, and the cops end up pursuing charges, that is one thing. But looking for ways to help the police is another.
Nonetheless, Luis Santiago, a special agent in US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement, said that stories about ongoing investigations can generate useful tips and coverage of successful prosecutions can act as a deterrent for other would-be criminals. He also pointed out that journalists need to be careful not disrupt the enforcement process.
CNN’s 2007 “Planet in Peril” series featured an episode in which Anderson Cooper and Jeff Corwin tagged along with Thai police officers during a raid of illegal animal trading operations at a local market. But the illicit vendors saw the group, camera crew and all, coming and closed their shops before any busts could be made.
“What if there’s an operation going on, and then you get in the way?” Santiago said, when asked about CNN’s report. “Maybe there was surveillance going on or something bigger happening—years invested in tracking the bad guy. If it’s an international case, there’s a lot of risk in terms of the time, effort, and money that get put in, so [reporting efforts] could have a negative impact. How you strike a balance? There’s not really a clear reference for that, but if there’s information out there, why not bring it to law enforcement agencies, because you never know what’s in the making. It could help them to do a better coordinated investigation.”
That might be a tough sell for a journalist working on a big scoop, however, and again, it’s not the press’s job to help law officers do theirs. Journalists and cops may often wind up following the same sordid trails, but ultimately, their primary responsibility is to dig up information in a responsible manner and give it public airing, regardless of what may or may not happen in the courts.