Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ex Times-Picayune Photographer Offers a Troubling Word Picture

What Happens When You Get Too Close to Your Sources

Alex Brandon, who worked for the New Orleans Times-Picayune post-Katrina, testified yesterday in a federal trial for five current or former NOLA cops accused in the death of a man in Algiers in the days after the hurricane's mayhem.
Brandon was embedded with the police department's SWAT team when he came upon an incident with two men on the ground in handcuffs jawing at police. One of the cops on trial told him not to take a picture, and Brandon obeyed. "It was, for lack of a better term, an order."
Putting aside the wisdom of following the order, what troubles me is this graf from the Times-Picayune story on the trial:

As a Times-Picayune photographer for 10 years, Brandon was well known (sic) for his extensive network of police contacts. He was also close to many police officers, a fact he testified to on Wednesday, saying he considered many of the SWAT officers to be "good friends."

Brandon now works for the AP in Washington, so the big stink he would have set off in the T-P newsroom from that statement was averted. Or could Brandon have returned to his office odor-free? Maybe Brandon's editors knew he was cozy with the cops, and exploited that so he could get up close and personal during Katrina's desperate hours. Perhaps the thought is in situations like this that expediency trumps integrity every time. Nonetheless, it does take some of the sheen of the T-P's yeoman coverage five years ago.

There's nothing wrong with being cordial, civil, even avuncular with the subjects you cover. Go ahead and like them. Hell, even admire their accomplishments. But whatever you do, don't become their friends. Then you're done as a journalist, as in stick-a-fork-in-you-because-you're-done done. You just don't do it. Or it really is end of story. The A.P. might want to remind Brandon of that going forward.

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