Several sites including BuzzFeed, Inside Edition and the Daily Mail splashed photos and videos of a skimpily-dressed Lindsay Mills under the guise of breaking news on June 10.
It wasn’t until June 12 that anyone confirmed Mills as being the girlfriend of Snowden.
At the time of many stories’ publication on June 10, Mills was only rumored to be the girlfriend of self-proclaimed NSA leaker Edward Snowden, and sites like Gawker distanced themselves from 100% labeling her as Snowden’s girlfriend, instead stating that she is reportedly the girlfriend.
While Mills was confirmed as Snowden’s girlfriend on June 12 in an Associated Press report, had the aforementioned sites been wrong in identifying her, they would have published over ten photos of a random woman simply because she was scantily clad — completely risking future credibility.
Mills, 28, is a former ballet dancer who currently performs with the Waikiki Acrobatic troupe in Honolulu, according to the Daily Mail. The pictures and videos seen in the articles were pulled from Mills’ blog, L’s Journey, which is currently inaccessible.
But what did Mills do to warrant such invasive and gratuitous coverage before it was confirmed she was even involved with Snowden?
None of the news outlets iMediaEthics reviewed — including Buzzfeed — stated or described any verification steps used to confirm that Mills was, in fact, Snowden’s girlfriend. Instead, each republished and analyzed Mills’ pictures and blog posts that were pulled from Facebook and her website.
Snowden has criticized the media’s unwarranted attention to the physical appearance of his girlfriend.
Snowden said in an online chat with the Guardian:
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“Unfortunately, the mainstream media now seems far more interested in what I said when I was 17 or what my girlfriend looks like rather than, say, the largest program of suspicionless surveillance in human history.”
Inside Edition IDs Mills as Snowden’s Girlfriend
Inside Edition broke the news about Mills by naming her as Snowden’s girlfriend in a report that focused on Snowden’s past and current whereabouts. However, the publication made no mention of whether Mills was, in fact, the girlfriend of Snowden or only alleged to be the girlfriend.
The Daily Mail published an article based solely on “family friends” that reported on everything from Mills’ blogpost about feeling “lost at seas without a compass.” Despite the heavy coverage of Mills, the Mail was careful to refer to Mills only as “reportedly” the girlfriend of Snowden.
Buzzfeed added fuel to the fire with its June 10 story, “This Might Be The Girlfriend Edward Snowden Left Behind,” which included 15 photos of Mills – a majority of them picturing her wearing nothing more than her undergarments. At the time of BuzzFeed’s story, the woman pictured might not have been Snowden’s girlfriend, and BuzzFeed would have been left with egg on its face if reports arose that she had no affiliation with Snowden.
BuzzFeed changed the title of its article on June 12 from “This Might Be The Girlfriend of Edward Snowden” to “This Is Edward Snowden’s Girlfriend” after the AP report confirming Mills as Snowden’s girlfriend.
How did BuzzFeed seek to verify — and justify — the woman’s identity and re-publication of her pictures?
iMediaEthics has contacted BuzzFeed asking but hasn’t received any response.