Did mass murderer Stephen Paddock have assistance carrying out his shooting?
A court error publicly revealed the name of a man identified as a person of interest in the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history.
Clark County District Court Judge Elissa Cadish acknowledged that a member of her court staff failed to black out the man’s name on one of 276 pages of documents released to news organizations including The Associated Press and Las Vegas Review-Journal.
After the error was recognized, lawyers for the news organizations were told to return the documents. The attorney representing AP and other media did so, but the other lawyer had already transmitted the documents and the Review-Journal published Douglas Haig’s name online.
Cadish later ordered the document not be published without redactions, but she acknowledged she couldn’t order the newspaper to retract the name.
“The reality is, now that it is online, there is nothing I can do,” Cadish said.
The unsealed search warrants in the investigation of the Oct. 1 shooting that killed 58 people revealed Haig as a person of interest authorities spoke to after the shooting. Haig told AP he sold ammo to shooter Stephen Paddock and that he had been contacted earlier by investigators in the case.
A spokeswoman for the FBI in Las Vegas declined to comment and referred calls to the US attorney in Nevada. A spokeswoman for the federal prosecutor’s did not immediately respond to messages.
A question of journalistic ethics
Reporters at the AP never received the document with Haig’s name, but the news organization used the name based on the Review-Journal‘s reporting citing police documents.
Brian Barrett, AP‘s assistant general counsel, said the news organization might have viewed it differently if reporters received the documents before the court asked them to be returned.
“Once truthful information is in the hands of journalists there are strong First Amendment protections that apply and would allow them to publish,” Barrett said.
Michael Parks, journalism professor at the University of Southern California, said if he were in his former position as editor of the Los Angeles Times, he might ask about the origin of documents but wouldn’t engage in pre-publication censorship if the source was legitimate.
“You can’t unring the bell. … It was a mistake, but it’s out,” Parks said. “Journalists are not in the business of suppressing news. … We publish it.”