Seattle TV news station KIRO’s Aug. 8 story aired the photo of the WRONG man when reporting on sexual assault accusations against a Seattle taxi driver.
Instead of showing Hassan Allaleh, a Seattle cab driver accused of groping a passenger in early June, the station, Channel 7 in Seattle owned by Cox Media group, showed an image of another taxi driver unrelated to the case.
Andrew Ackley, the lawyer for the innocent cab driver, told iMediaEthics the video from the cab of the victim and a still image of his client were shown twice on air and also published online.
After they saw the KIRO report, friends of the innocent cab driver kept coming up to him to ask what he had done wrong. He’s so embarrassed by the error, he hasn’t told many people, including family, he said. “I’ll never tell my wife, I’ll never tell my kids,” the man told iMediaEthics in a phone interview.
KIRO’s news director didn’t respond to iMediaEthics’s phone message or numerous e-mails starting Aug. 25 containing our detailed questions about KIRO’s error and handling of this incident. The only response we received from KIRO was on Aug. 26 from news director Jake Milstein, in response to one of our inquiries that was sent to the him and KIRO reporter David Ham. He ignored most of our questions but let us know KIRO attached an editor’s note to its story about the error. iMediaEthics also reached out to station manager Jay O’Connor by phone and e-mail but did not receive a response by publication.
KIRO failed to publish a correction or apology
The innocent cab driver explained to iMediaEthics that he shared the use of a cab with the accused — Allaleh had the cab for the night shift and he had it for the day shift. The police interviewed him back in June when Allaleh was first accused. Two months later, the innocent man’s face was aired on KIRO and he was wrongly linked to the case.
The prosecutor’s office confirmed Allaleh is the only suspect. Allaleh has been charged with assault in the second degree with sexual motivation, the Seattle Proscuting Attorney’s Office spokesperson Dan Donohoe told iMediaEthics.
The police department’s Certification for Determination of Probable Cause showed that Allaleh works at night from 4:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. and that Allaleh “turned in the credit card billing” for the victim.
“I’m not guilty,” the blameless cab driver said by phone. “I never did any crime, but these people, they know my face and that guy’s face” and now they think he is accused of assault.
KIRO left its story and video identifying an innocent cab driver as an accused groper up for 11 days.
The victim also asked for KIRO last month to remove the video as she thought the Seattle TV news station’s publication of the video made her identifiable, iMediaEthics has learned.
KIRO apparently only discovered its error after both the misidentified man and the Seattle police on behalf of the victim contacted the station. KIRO replaced its image of the misidentified cab driver with a picture of police lights. Even then, KIRO didn’t publish a correction or apology on its site.
Because of the error, the man “has been forced to defend himself amongst his social and religious circles in a way that is discomforting to say the least,” his lawyer Ackley told iMediaEthics by phone. Ackley told iMediaEthics “We’re still deciding what legal course of action to take.”
“People ask, if you didn’t do it why did they not correct it before they published it,” the man added via his lawyer. “They had two months [since the accusations arose] to get it right, including footage of the accused in court.”
He thinks KIRO made the mistake because they were trying to “get ahead of the game” with reporting on Allelah.
Why iMediaEthics Isn’t Naming the Innocent Cab Driver
iMediaEthics spoke with the innocent cab driver, the man wrongly identified by KIRO. iMediaEthics is granting the man who was misidentified as Allaleh anonymity, at his request. The man was concerned that by identifying him and linking him to this case, it would further damage his reputation.
iMediaEthics normally wouldn’t grant the subject of a story anonymity but agreed with his request for the following reasons:
- KIRO never named him; instead, it showed his face on air. If iMediaEthics named him in this report, we would be the first outlet to publish his name with the accusations.
- The man was concerned that by naming him even more attention would be brought to KIRO’s initial error. While he wants the public to know of KIRO’s egregious error, he does not want to risk further damage to his reputation.
What KIRO reported
iMediaEthics viewed a Cache of the Aug. 8 online article, which was accompanied by the video and a still image of the innocent cab driver. The video was captioned:
“KIRO 7 obtained video inside a cab, during a ride where a Yellow Cab passenger told Seattle police she was groped by driver Hassan Allaleh.”
iMediaEthics viewed the on-air news clip, sent to us by the wrongly identified cab driver’s lawyer, Ackley.
The clip shows the inside of the cab with the timestamp of June 7, 2014 at 2:01 08. A woman is shown in the backseat. A black bar was placed over the woman’s eyes to protect her identity. Then a still image is shown of the innocent cab driver with the backseat empty. You can see him holding what appears to be a phone. Two more times, the still image of the innocent cab driver is shown. KIRO said on air of the video, “Prosecutors waited 29 days to release it to us to give the driver’s attorney a chance to argue why we shouldn’t have it.”
The still image of our source, the innocent cab driver, was timestamped Tues., June 10, 2014 10:30:34.400, which is approximately three days and eight and a half hours after the alleged assault. In addition to being broadcast in the video clip, it was also published separately as an image with the article.
The image showed the innocent cab driver in the front seat, apparently on the phone, with an empty back seat. KIRO apparently ignored four key factors that flag it was not an image of the cab driver during the assault:
- The man shown was not the same man KIRO had seen in court to face the charges.
- The backseat of the car was empty
- It was daylight outside of the cab
- The timestamp shows it was more than three days and eight hours after the alleged incident.
In addition to the video being shown on air and posted online, KIRO’s reporter David Ham also shared the video on Facebook showing a still of the innocent cab driver.
The caption was “Alleged Groping Cabbie: I just got the video of this guy in the cab. Decide for yourself if he was really groping a female passenger.” The video and post have been deleted from Ham’s Facebook page.
He also posted the below tweet.
KIRO had previously reported on its attempts to get the video. In an earlier July 10 on-air report, Ham said the station requested the video from authorities. “When we get that video, we will share it with you so you can decide if you would get in that cab with that driver,” Ham said.
Was Victim Identified?
In addition to misidentifying the accused, the video may have identified the victim, as iMediaEthics mentioned above.
Lisa Immerwahr, a victim advocate with the Seattle Police Department, confirmed to iMediaEthics: “I did ask our media people to ask KIRO to remove the video clip from their website at the victim’s request.”
The victim was shown in the video with a black bar across her eyes.
The bar was apparently added by KIRO as the prosecutor’s office, which released the video to KIRO, said it did not put the bar there. The prosecution office “did not add a bar covering the victim’s eyes,” the prosecutor’s office spokesperson Dan Donohoe told iMediaEthics.
In iMediaEthics’ view, the black bar didn’t go far enough to protect the victim’s identity. In addition to showing her face with the black bar, the station identified the area where she was dropped off and likely lives, making it likely that her friends, neighbors, co-workers and family could recognize her. It would have been better for KIRO to completely blur her face or put a black box over her face to prevent identification, if the video was absolutely necessary to show.
The Seattle police’s spokesperson Sean Whitcomb told iMediaEthics the department didn’t give the video to KIRO and that the case detective involved in the case didn’t want it released. Neither did the accused, Hassan Allaleh. Allaleh’s lawyer declined to comment to iMediaEthics.
Dan Donohoe told us “The King County Prosecutor’s Office released the video last month after receiving a public disclosure request for the video from KIRO-TV.”
KIRO Doesn’t Apologize, only adds weak editor’s note after iMediaEthics contacts
Even though the video misidentified an innocent cab driver as accused of assault, and even though the victim complained, KIRO didn’t explain to its viewers and readers why it yanked the video. Instead, the video and the still image of the innocent driver were deleted without any disclosure. The article was left up. And the innocent driver and his lawyer confirmed they have received no apology from KIRO.
After iMediaEthics contacted KIRO’s news director Milstein and reporter Ham, an editor’s note finally appeared atop the Aug. 8 online story. The editor’s note reads:
“Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story had photos of two different men, both of whom are cab drivers. Only one is the suspect. We removed the photo of the man who is not a suspect from kirotv.com.”
But shockingly, KIRO failed to apologize for its egregious error.
The misidentified man told iMediaEthics in an e-mail via his lawyer, “KIRO’s editor’s note does not accept responsibility for the serious mistake they made.”
KIRO previously subject of Washington News Council Complaints
iMediaEthics wrote in 2012 when the now-closed Washington News Council decided against KIRO-7 for its false accusations of bullying against school janitor Chester Harris and for invading the privacy of students. The school, its principal and staff, teachers and the local union all stood by the janitor.
The news council closed earlier this year after 15 years. It was the last news council in the U.S.