It’s a high-profile case, the kind that news consumers seek out, the kind of story than can make or break a media outlet’s reputation. For police, investigators are under intense scrutiny to find a killer, and must use the media wisely to help solve the case.
So why has the case of Ivan Cano been covered so differently by our city’s media outlets?
First, some facts. Police searched the home of a neighbor, convicted sex offender Cecil New for several hours. Police had obtained a search warrant for the apartment last Saturday, and police dogs on the scent for a corpse reacted strongly near New’s apartment. Two TV stations obtained copies of the warrant by Tuesday, but they got more than they should have, according to police, who intended for the warrant to be sealed. Its contents, police said, could compromise their investigation if made public.
So police negotiated with the media, but news managers came away with different interpretations of what was fair game. WHAS-TV reported New’s name, but apparently held back some information from the warrant at the request of police. WAVE-TV on Tuesday reported on the story of the search, but said it wouldn’t report New’s identity until he was a suspect. Then, the next day, it changed course and exposed New.
The Courier-Journal, in its Thursday story, reported in fine detail the contents of the warrant, but said in the story that it wasn’t releasing the name of the “person of interest” because he hadn’t been charged with a crime.
The central controversy concerns the warrant, which was sealed at the request of police. But when media outlets requested a copy, they got unsealed copies. Circuit Court Clerk David Nicholson has taken responsibility for the mistake and launched an internal investigation. But there’s no doubt that police would rather not have had media reports circulating about the details of the investigation, including the search of New’s apartment.
Police are proceeding carefully in dealing with the media on the case, and had it not been for the unsealed warrant being made available, they could have controlled the media’s access to information. The public wouldn’t have known some details, such as New’s contact with the child the day before he disappeared.
I don’t blame the C-J or the TV stations for reporting what they are able to discover through their own investigations. That’s what competition for stories is all about, and it takes extreme circumstances for a media outlet to hold back on reporting anything it discovers. Even if it compromises the investigation.