The “Tweets on a Train” story featuring an overheard cell phone conversation of AD-69 candidate Michele Martinez by investigative journalist Bob Salladay has gone viral being picked by by the Sacramento Bee, a variety of technology/social media web sites, and even the Poynter Institute’s web site read by journalists all over the country. It’s spawned a debate on the ethics of reporting an overheard conversation and tweeting about it without follow up questions.
So say Salladay did in fact introduce himself to Martinez, identify himself as a reporter and ask about her half of the phone conversation? How would she explain it? They was no denial of the materials facts of the conversation from Martinez in her statement about the “creepiness” of Salladay’s tweets. But the aftermath of Tweets on a Train is that the Pala Tribe is not going to be coming in big with IEs on behalf of Martinez as reported by The Voice of OC.
From their story: “The Pala Band of Mission Indians will not make any independent expenditures to campaign for 69th Assembly District candidate Michele Martinez, the tribe’s spokesman, Doug Elmets, said in an interview Friday.
Martinez, who is a Santa Ana city councilwoman, approached Robert Smith, chairman of the Pala Tribal Council, at a social function in Sacramento and asked for campaign support, but they never discussed independent expenditures, Elmets said.
“She [Martinez] has not met with the Pala Tribal Council, which is indicative of the fact that she has no support from the tribal council yet for her candidacy, let alone the idea that the tribe might run an independent expenditure campaign, which, given her erroneous comments, make the idea even more remote.”
Compare the Pala Tribe’s statement with the claim Martinez made to her caller about Pala Tribe leader Robert Smith working with her on IEs, and someone isn’t being truthful here. And it begs the question: who was the person at the other end of the line of Martinez’s phone call?
Now Martinez said someone listening in on a private conservation was creepy and disrespectful. Consider the 2008 case of Santa Ana Councilman Carlos Bustamante’s “water bra” comment. The Register has a nice recap of the entire incident here. Bustamante, who has since resigned from his county job under murky circumstances, made an offensive and offhanded remark to Santa Ana police chief Paul Walters who was a candidate for Orange County Sheriff which went to current top cop Sandra Hutchens.
The comment cost Bustamante two state commission appointments when he resigned according to the LA Times.
The common thread between Martinez and Bustamante — both were caught making remarks that proved to be politically damaging. Bustamante denied making a remark clearly overheard by fellow Republicans. Martinez didn’t issue a denial but instead used the term creepy suggesting her privacy was invaded.
Of course, all of this raises the question of why Martinez (who has not denied that it was her on the train or that Salladay reported what she said accurately) would have a conversation like this is in public to begin with. We’ve all been in some public area where people talk on their cell phone far louder than they need to, forcing at least one side of their conversation upon us whether we want to hear it or not, and I’ve personally been surprised at the number of times you can hear people talking about things out loud that one would think they wouldn’t want anyone else to know about. Martinez’s outrage here would sound a little more sincere if it weren’t for the fact that she was dumb enough to talk about this on a train where anyone around her could here what she’s saying. The fact that one of those people happened to be a reporter is really just her bad luck.
What if the conversation that Salladay had overheard hadn’t had anything to do with the campaign, though? What if it was some kind of personal conversation that revealed, or appeared to reveal, something embarrassing of a personal nature? Would it have been appropriate, from a journalistic standpoint, for him to “live tweet” the conversation in that case? Admittedly, it becomes a more difficult question at that point, and it’s hard to make the case that the private life of a state representative is really all that newsworthy unless it involves something illegal. The fact that Martinez might have been having a fight with her husband, for example, doesn’t strike me as something the public needs to know. At the same time, thought, it’s a tough line to draw and it’s hardly an invasion of privacy if someone is speaking so loudly in public that everyone around them can hear clearly.
We have to wonder if the woman on the train who also overheard Martinez’s call was “creepy” for asking about her campaign?