Awakening Your Inner NEWSBREAKER
An illustrated legal scrapbook for reclaiming the airwaves and improving the mood

Supporters, detractors and fence sitters alike ask about the legality of this work we call NEWSBREAKERS. For those of you who feel a twinge of sovereignty and daydream of launching your own television repair business, read on and draw strength. If you're inclined to have us locked up, take a good look, too, so you don't grind your teeth down to nubs with played-out approaches. And if you're just not sure about the whole shebang, maybe we can win your heart and mind.

This discussion will focus on criminal law, rather than civil law, and its application to NEWSBREAKERS. That's not to ignore the fascinating complexities that civil law promises.

Our law and order adventure begins at a hospital in Rochester, NY at high noon, January 6, 2005. NEWSBREAKERS launch a double-header bust on WROC-TV (Ch. 8) and WHEC-TV (Ch. 10). All goes as planned except for the presence of some security guards who throw the place into lockdown and round up three NEWSBREAKERS before calling in the guys with guns.

Listen to audio from the bust recorded live from our control room.

A hospital spokesman tells NEWSBREAKERS that they've committed trespassing and violated hospital photography policy. Police arrive and quickly disabuse the hospital flack of that notion. The flack passes along a warning from WROC that there better not be any video put on any web site. Like this is just any web site. WROC sticks around to extricate its pound of flesh by claiming a NEWSBREAKER committed an assault. NEWSBREAKERS produce a video tape(wmv/Quicktime) to debunk that notion. Police view the tape and agree with NEWSBREAKERS: No assault occurred.

Listen to a report recorded live from the interrogation room.
Listen to Norm conduct a Q&A with Buck on the mood from the clink.

The official word from police doesn't stop WROC (this is their e-mail address). They forge ahead with a web story that alleges assault, truth be damned. WROC's mad as hell and they're not going to take this anymore. They get so flummoxed they give NEWSBREAKERS close to two minutes on the six o'clock news(wmv/Quicktime). Did you hear the line at the end? "One of them could face prosecution." Sounds like a threat to us. But the cops warn us about this. "Startling" can get you second degree harassment; it's like a parking ticket, they say. Speaking of police, we get this e-mail the next day.

As reference, here's how you deal with a NEWSBREAKER with a great spin move, but atrocious mic technique (wmv/Quicktime). We're diggin' her answers and reporting them first. Someone give Little Red Riding Hood a raise.

But back to the set of unfortunate circumstances that will eventually lead us to court.

We want to know more about this harassment charge business, so we decide to go to the top, Rochester Police Chief Robert Duffy. The Chief's mulling over a run for mayor when we catch him a few days later, so we cut him some slack when he says he's not down on the NB tip. Instead he turns us on to his main man and spokesperson back at the cop shop, Sgt. Carlos Garcia, who goes bottom line on our dumb asses. "It's not against the law to jump around and act like fools behind reporters," he says. Our sentiments exactly.

Comfortable in our legal standing, we can now begin the healing process. What says, "let's make up" better than flowers? We choose just the right arrangement and head over to WROC to mend some fences. (wmv/Quicktime) Maybe WROC didn't like the card we sent, because the next day this arrives in the mail. Guess nothing says harassment like flowers. Somebody call the FTD guy.

But first we call our favorite New York assistant DA. Listen to his advice. (In order to protect our sources, we've disguised his voice.) We learn quickly that justice isn't quite so transparent in New York's Monroe County. The county runs a pre-warrant program, which functions like arbitration, but, get this, doesn't allow defendants access to the charges against them. "Show up on your assigned day, and we'll tell you what it's about," is the response we get from the DA's office. If justice is blind, she's also mute in western New York.

In response, NEWSBREAKERS launches the "Save Buck" campaign. We run out of our first printing of T-shirts. Do you work in TV news and want to piss off your bosses? (We know you have more than one.) Go to the NEWSBREAKERS store. Everything's at cost; we don't make a penny.

Court day arrives, and Buck slips into his comfy jeans and F.A.I.R. T-shirt. "You're wearing jeans to court?" asks Mrs. Buck. She's nervous. But, she's not the only one on edge. Buck watches WROC's noon broadcast and wonders out loud if the live reporter's tweaking. (wmv/Quicktime). He's one distracted news reader. Slow down, dude. Focus on the camera. You'd think he had a court date in an hour.

Downtown, Rusty the Bailiff calls Buck's name for a hearing that feels more like a trip to the principal's office than a courthouse. Expecting the riot act, Buck gets something that is closer to a gas. He takes notes(1) and listens to the WROC story replete with brand new flourishes, delivered with that certain pathos only a TV news reporter can deliver. The DA man asks Buck if he'll play nice. Buck says he'd prefer to tell it to the judge.(2) That attitude earns Buck a quick trip to timeout. He's kicked out of the hearing to wait with the rest of the riff-raff in the hall while the DA's office and the WROC team hash out the details in private.

What happens behind closed doors, we don't know. The assistant DA says the case is closed and sealed from public access. Any curious investigative reporters out there want to check this out? How common is it to deny a respondent access to the charges and evidence against him? Why are records sealed? Why does this case warrant such secrecy? Why was the WROC news director invited into the hearing when he was neither a party to the claim nor a witness? Why does WROC have such a troubled relationship with the truth?

UPDATE: April 26, 2006
A Monroe County, New York assistant district attorney with close ties to the case says that a defendant in a pre-warrant hearing is not entitled to any records concerning that hearing. He says it is not a matter of public record, but takes issue with calling the matter "sealed" and clarifies that charges were never filed in this case, only a complaint by an employee of WROC.

It remains our position that matters of public interest should never be conducted in private and without regard for accountability and the transparent operation of government.

We thank the assistant DA for his time and valuable advice as we continue our efforts to improve television news.

Liable For Libel? When actual malice is an editorial policy even the MLRC can't save your ass.