UPDATED with statements from CNN and MSNBC: Looking like an episode of Storage Wars – or a typical real estate open house in Santa Monica, California – TV news reporters with cameras this morning stormed the apartment rented by the San Bernardino shooters, at the invitation of the landlord. MSNBC, CNN and CBS were among the outlets broadcasting jaw-dropping footage of rooms strewn with baby toys, passports, driver’s licenses, personal photos and other articles left behind as their reporters rummaged through the Redlands space. Also in the house: lists left by authorities of items they had removed, including ammunition, hard drives, thumb drives and– a Rolodex?
“They’ve turned a crime scene in a terrorist mass murder into a garage sale!” CNN legal analyst Paul Callan raved, forecasting the outrage against the media, the landlord, and inept investigators that’s sure to be the second-day story.
TV news veterans including CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell grappled with the Mad Hatter’s tea party TV moment and cobbled together never-before-in-all-my-days-as-a-journalist commentary as best they could that would capture their horror without throwing under the bus their networks’ reporters on the scene. Even news outlets’ White House correspondents got in on the fun, asking President Obama’s press secretary Josh Earnest to weigh in on what their colleagues in California had done to screw up a key site in what the FBI later this morning officially declared a terrorist attack investigation. Earnest dodged the question.
Not surprisingly, TV reporters who toured the crime scene now are reporting that they were not given access to the garage and that the makeshift front door, put up by authorities after they broke the real one down, once again has been drilled shut by people who did not identify themselves. The landlord eventually was escorted away in a law-enforcement vehicle.
No detail was too small for the reporters and cameramen as they walked through the apartment rented by Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik this morning. A CNN reporter earnestly discussed finding a half-eaten loaf of bread on top of the washing machine while his colleague upstairs reported finding “plenty of signs of faith” and picked up prayer beads left on a bed. She boasted she’d been first to enter the room, beating the mob of about 50, as Anderson Cooper watched incredulously. CNN did a better job than others at not showing close ups of personal information left behind by investigators.
An MSNBC reporter told Mitchell, “We have quite a number of photographs here, but we don’t know, we don’t know if it’s [Farook and Malik],” as the camera closed in on the photos, including one of a small child, and other personal information during its tour of the home, while Mitchell’s voice oozed discomfort:
MSNBC came in for the worst of the media-bashing that ensued and issued the following statement:
“MSNBC and other news organizations were invited into the home by the landlord after law enforcement officials had finished examining the site and returned control to the landlord. Although MSNBC was not the first crew to enter the home, we did have the first live shots from inside. We regret that we briefly showed images of photographs and identification cards that should not have been aired without review.”
The media were not the only people traipsing through the house at the invitation of the landlord. Cameras showed a woman enter the home with a child in tow. Another looky-loo had a dog.
“This is kind of bizarre, what we’re seeing” said Cooper, mastering understatement.
“I am having chills down my spine,” added CNN’s law enforcement analyst Harry Houck. “This apartment clearly is full of evidence. I don’t see any fingerprint dusts on the walls where they went in and checked for fingerprints for other people that might have been connected with these two. You’ve got documents laying all over the place; you’ve got shredded documents that need to be taken out of there to see what was shredded…Now you have thousands of fingerprints all over inside on this crime scene.” Witness his near vein-popping outrage:
CNN issued a statement making clear that they had been invited by the landlord to walk through the apartment:
“CNN, like many other news organizations, was granted access to the home by the landlord. We made a conscious editorial decision not to show close-up footage of any material that could be considered sensitive or identifiable, such as photos or ID cards.”
And sensing bad optics, various media outlets spent the afternoon noting on screen the FBI had told their people they were, in fact, through with their investigation of the house and had turned it back over to the landlord.