The Murfreesboro Post’s Dan Whittle claimed that a local TV news station lifted his story on John W. Hinckley Jr. without crediting the newspaper.
According to Mondo Times, The Murfreesboro Post is a Tennessee weekly community newspaper with a circulation of about 24,000 copies.
In Whittle’s Jan. 8 article, he explained that he spent “multiple hours building into days and nights of research,” working on his story about Hinckley’s 1980 arrest in Nashville for “stalking former President Jimmy Carter” months before he tried to “assassinate former President Ronald Reagan” in 1981. He called the story and its development “fascinating.”
Whittle’s Jan. 1 article reported on “recently released government documents” and featured an interview with deputy Darrell Long, who “was one of the security officers who arrested Hinckley” in 1980 after he tried to bring guns on board the same plane as President Carter. In the article, Whittle notes that “Until recently, these historic facts have never before been made public.”
The Channel 5 website includes a video report about Hinckley. See here the 6:30 p.m. segment in which the station reports on the Hinckley arrest and interviews deputy Darrell Long. In the interview, Long says that Hinckley was arrested after being found with guns in his bag and that Hinckley was trying to board the same plane as Carter. The Murfreesboro Post isn’t mentioned in the program.
Whittle wrote that NewsChannel 5 WTVF-TV reported the news of Whittle’s story in two news programs without crediting Whittle or the Murfreesboro Post. In contrast, he noted that the Virginia Gazette “gave full attribution to The Murfreesboro Post” as did WGNS radio, a partner radio station of the Murfreesboro Post. (The Virginia Gazette actually re-published a portion of the Murfreesboro Post’s full article with the byline “By Dan Whittle/Murfreesboro Post” — see here. And, see here the Jan. 2 WGNS program featuring the Murfreesboro Post’s Whittle discussing the story.)
Whittle quoted Murfreesboro Post publisher Ron Fryar calling a lack of attribution in stories “maddening.” He questioned why Channel 5 didn’t note at the beginning of its two segments that the Hinckley story was broken by the Murfreesboro Post. “May it be noted in this instance neither opening was utilized as they obviously knew from where they got their story, and it did not qualify as such even in their own limited understanding of professional ethics,” Fryar is quoted as saying.
We wrote to the Murfreesboro Post for more information about this incident and asking if the newspaper had any contact with Channel 5 over its complaints. The newspaper’s editor, Michelle Willard, told iMediaEthics by e-mail:
“I had a brief conversation last week with a reporter from News Channel 5 when he called asking about another story from the same edition. He did that story also without properly attributing us as the original publisher of the story.”
We have asked Willard for more information concerning that incident. We will update with any response.
We asked the Murfreesboro Post’s Whittle about the story and where it originated. He told us by e-mail that the story originated in a “very unusual” way. According to an e-mail from Whittle to iMediaEthics, “my wife’s deceased husband was in charge of security at Nashville International Airport in 1980…she recently came across the arrest papers/report involving Hinckley in some old files stuffed in the back of a drawer….marked ‘local reproduction authorized.'” According to Whittle, his wife suggested he check out the material and it “turned out to be a gold nugget of here-to-fore unknown history of an incident that may have altered U.S. political history.”
Whittle added that the “only thing I’m interested in as a 45-year veteran (now semi-retired) newspaperman is ethical attribution of information and news stories.”
We have also written to Channel 5 and will update with any response.
We wrote in July 2011 when News Channel 5 was accused of defamation by Tennessee judge Daniel B. Eisenstein. Eisenstein alleged that WTVF reporter Phil Williams defamed him in retaliation because Eisenstein questioned a police captain’s intent to dismiss the reporter’s parking tickets.