What the Hell Just Happened on MSNBC and CNN?

David A. Graham

A baffling, surreal scene just played out on the two networks, where the landlord of the San Bernardino shooting suspects apparently allowed reporters into their apartment.

The result was disturbing. On live national television, reporters sifted through the remains of the lives of Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik. They picked over children’s toys. They held up photos, speculating about whether the woman depicted in one might be Malik. They displayed Social Security cards and driver’s licenses with readily identifiable information—and not just for the deceased suspects:

Stephen Miller (@redsteeze )
Screenshots from MSNBC. I added the redout

As if the journalistic irresponsibility of baselessly speculating while holding up images of potentially innocent people on TV wasn’t bad enough, it beggars belief the scene wasn’t taped off and guarded. Reporters were given free rein to walk through an apartment that is an important part of the investigation, and they were allowed to handle what one would expect to be evidence. Police didn’t appear to know the media tour was going on. Brian Ries of Mashable reports:

Brian Ries (@moneyries )
Asked FBI Los Angeles if suspects' apartment now open to the media/public: “I don’t believe so…it is still an ongoing investigation.”

However, an NBC spokeswoman said the tour was approved by the FBI:

Erika Masonhall (@ErikaMasonhall )
As @mitchellreports said on @MSNBC : the apt owner permitted the press tour, the FBI has already cleared out useful evidence

Senator Lindsey Graham, appearing on MSNBC via phone just as the network cut away from the footage, expressed astonishment that reporters were being allowed into the scene. Shocked reporters expressed revulsion on Twitter.

How did law enforcement fail to secure the apartment? What were the networks thinking? This seems like a pair of major institutional failures.

Update: Or maybe the landlord didn’t invite them in:

CBS Los Angeles (@CBSLA )
Landlord says he didn't allow media into San Bernardino shooters' apartment: 'they rushed' http://cbsn.ws/1cUhbOw

Update, Dec. 5: Megan follows up here.