The mayor of Pittsburgh called the executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and “professed outrage” that the city’s police chief had distributed to other reporters the questions Post-Gazette journalists were asking about police conduct in the slaying of a young woman and the suicide of the man police said confessed to shooting her, the newspaper said in an editorial Friday.
“Mayor Luke Ravenstahl professed outrage in a call to the Post-Gazette’s executive editor at what his chief had done and promised that it will not happen again,” the editorial said. “We take him at his word, given that the episode made his police officials look petty and vindictive.”
The editorial said, “. . . it was outrageous and illegitimate for the bureau to circulate the Post-Gazette’s questions and a summary of the facts its reporters had gathered, in a news release last Saturday to dozens of other journalists.
“The action reveals an obnoxious defensiveness by the bureau on taking legitimate questions from reporters about the murder of a young woman and the suicide of the man police said confessed to shooting her — a tragedy that perhaps might have been prevented by better police work.
“Ka’Sandra Wade, 33, was found shot to death in her Larimer home on New Year’s Day. But nearly 24 hours earlier, she had called 911 and the call-taker heard a commotion before the line was disconnected. Two officers responded but went away after speaking only to a man who said nothing was amiss. He turned out to be the woman’s boyfriend, Anthony L. Brown, 51, who fatally shot himself Jan. 2 during a standoff with a SWAT team after admitting to the murder.
“Questions naturally arose from these events. Post-Gazette reporters Liz Navratil and Jonathan D. Silver wrote their questions and emailed them to the bureau, as they have sometimes done before, for a response. Subsequently, Diane Richard, the public information officer, issued a press release that quoted Chief Nate Harper as saying that an investigation was in its early stages and the bureau would not provide a statement or answers to anyone. The release ordered by the chief also disseminated the questions of and the information obtained to that point by the Post-Gazette’s reporters. . . . “
The editorial continued, “Post-Gazette Executive Editor David M. Shribman said that this was probably the most horrifying and unprofessional PR behavior he had seen in four decades in journalism,” and added words of support from the Newspaper Guild and the Public Relations Society of America.
“. . . Some members of the public in a media-hostile age may dismiss this as special pleading,” the editorial said. “But once a government agency arrogantly decides to punish perceived enemies, reporters from any news organization become candidates for the same treatment — the Post-Gazette one day, WPXI the next, with the ultimate victim the public’s right to know. To dismiss this as unimportant is to suggest that a young woman’s life was unimportant; it is to suggest that the people of Pittsburgh don’t deserve real answers about public safety, police performance and what their tax dollars are buying. . . .