Lindsay Lohan and the perils of dubious journalism

24 Jul

No matter what you think about Lindsay Lohan or whether her jail sentence is deserved or not, as a journalist it’s my job to be honest, fair and direct with my reporting.

I have now been on Lindsay Lohan watch for several weeks. I was in court two weeks ago covering her hearing and her jail sentence. I was outside her “sober living home” watching people come and go. I ran down to the court to catch a glimpse (or try to) of her supposed attorney Bob Shapiro when he quit. I’ve interviewed the DA and Lindsay’s defense attorney. I was there inside the courtroom when the cameras were switched off on Tuesday and I saw her handcuffed. From the courthouse I was sent down to the jail to interview inmates coming out. I was  lucky to arrive in time to catch inmates being released who were in the holding tank when she arrived. I had some first hand descriptions from those who saw her and I reported them – ACCURATELY. I knew they were accurate because I had a group of 8 women telling the exact same story.

Today, though, I’m furious. I’ve been on “Lindsay Watch” and probably will be till she’s released. This basically means spending the entire day at the jail waiting to interview inmates being released and catching people visiting her (attorneys, family, friends).

On Thursday I was back at the jail and spoke at length with a released inmate. I know the drill now, having been there several times. I know how to talk to the released inmates and which ones to believe. Who is grandstanding, who is being genuine, who really did see or hear Lindsay and who just wants their name in the paper or on TV. This woman’s name was Cheryl Presser. She was 43, and had been in the mental ward. She was handcuffed at meal times and at any time she was around other inmates and openly admitted she did not see or speak to Lindsay. Her child has been taken away from her – she has SERIOUS mental and substance abuse problems.

Most of the reporters down at the jail have worked together for a long time. We come from various media outlets and see each other all the time – especially those of us that cover court cases. So we’ll all be at the same Lindsay, Mel, Michael Jackson etc. trials (and tribulations). Most of us are friendly and work well together. We’re all there for the same thing and we help each other out.

On Thursday, I was at the jail early – around 8 a.m and stayed until well after 5 p.m.  It’s what most of us do. They are long days and we settle in. We’re used to it. After 30  minutes talking to Ms. Cheryl Presser, a “reporter” from the Daily Mirror showed up around 10 a.m. and stayed only a couple of hours. She didn’t chat with anyone, didn’t join our group of motley journalists and proceeded to pull over every leaving inmate I interviewed. We journalists understand that we all need the same info but there is still some sort of protocol that we tend to follow. We rarely poach interview subjects, but this woman had no qualms. She pulled over Ms. Cheryl Presser and openly handed her a $20 bill. Cheryl even came up to me and said “She gave me $20” and she also said “I hope you don’t mind.”

I understood that $20 to Cheryl was like a gold mine. She didn’t have a penny on her. And suddenly the entire world has picked up the Mirror’s “story” about Cheryl Presser saying Lindsay was screaming, crying, on lockdown etc. and under  24-hour security watch. Repeat: Cheryl was nowhere near Lindsay and knew NOTHING. But suddenly, with $20 in her pocket she was revealing all kinds of ridiculous information. I saw with my own eyes the money exchange hands. Now the Mirror is making a fortune peddling this so-called inside information about Lindsay’s self-mutilation, screaming fits, crying jags and all around hysteria, inmates cursing at her.  I’m here to tell you it’s patently untrue.

I also know that if ANY inmates had said the things they supposedly screamed out to Lindsay or made any threats they would be in serious lockdown themselves and treated pretty harshly by the deputies and rightly so. Anything that constitutes a threat MUST be taken seriously by the jail. How can it not be? And after spending several days over the course of several weeks interviewing released inmates from Lynwood, trust me these women aren’t going to do ANYTHING to jeopardize their time in the slammer. It’s a rough, rough, place. These women aren’t stupid.

I’m not naive. I understand tabloids pay people all the time to spout the most utter garbage, and let’s face it $20 isn’t much when others are paid thousands, hundreds of thousands and even millions to say what the media wants to hear: something salacious, something off the wall, something that will sell papers or magazines. It’s a business after all.

However, I’m not just furious at the lies that are being printed. I’m angry that these kinds of stories are making it impossible for real journalists who want to tell the truth to do their jobs. Here’s the deal. The journalists build up relationships and here in LA – The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s spokesman is our link to information and to being allowed access. Spokesman Steve Whitmore is a good guy with a thankless task – namely being driven mad by us journalists every day seeking information, answers to questions. He patiently does press conferences and responds to our endless phone calls, emails and text messages. But when stories such as the ones the Mirror has been reporting land up all over the media, our access suddenly becomes limited.

Last week we had open access in the entrance to the jail and to interview those who were released. This week because of insane untrue stories about what Lindsay was going through etc. we were forced to sit outside the main entrance, we were not allowed in. The trickle of released inmates slowed down and the majority of those who did come out told us in no uncertain terms they had been told they were not allowed to talk to us. The Sheriff’s office rarely returned our calls.

We understand that people want to read information about Lindsay in jail. We understand that if the demand for information wasn’t high, our editors wouldn’t send us out to cover this stuff. The very least we can do if we’re on these stories is to report accurate information. When the Mirror engages in this type of dubious journalism then everyone suffers.

I don’t care whether you believe Lindsay should be in jail or not. I do care that while she’s in there we try and report the most accurate information possible. To do this, we need to cultivate good relationships with the sheriff’s department, the jail, and the attorneys involved in the case. When utter rubbish is printed we are unable to do our jobs properly because the proper channels are then closed off to us.

Ask yourself, why is only the Mirror and its subsidiaries printing these crazy stories about Lindsay? There are a slew of reporters down at the jail every day from every paper, magazine and online outfit. How come we don’t have these “stories?” Because they’re not true and we won’t publish stuff we know is totally made up or bought.

So please, don’t believe this rubbish that you’re reading. Don’t allow muckrakers to shut down honest reporting by buying off their interview subjects and denying us access to proper channels, which totally prevents us from telling the real story. We all deserve better than this. Even Lindsay.

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4 Responses to “Lindsay Lohan and the perils of dubious journalism”

  1. Rachel Blackbirdsong July 24, 2010 at +00:00SatUTC #

    Excellent post Kelly. What you’ve written here is good on so many levels. First of all, I think it’s great for people to see that there are reporters who are professional and have professional integrity. Too often, the other sort seem to be the ones that most assume define what a reporter is and what they are willing to do to publish a story. Secondly, you are actually doing a service for Ms. Lohan, because the last thing she needs right-especially now that her father is once again making his own headlines-is false information about her situation making the news. I can’t say I’m a fan of hers, but just the same I wish her the best. I hope that she learns whatever lessons come from this experience so that she can move on with her life and not look back.

    Again, excellent post Kelly. You make me proud to be not only your colleague, but also your friend.

    • bronte13 July 24, 2010 at +00:00SatUTC #

      You rock, Ray Ray. Back at you.

  2. Ruby Deux July 24, 2010 at +00:00SatUTC #

    It’s because of your integrity that people trust you and want to read what you have to tell them. Without integrity, a reporter is worthless. Rise above the worthless and you’ll outshine them no matter what. You already do.

  3. bronte13 July 24, 2010 at +00:00SatUTC #

    Thanks Suba. It’s good to have friends with moral decency. Cheers, K

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