KRQE-TV investigative reporter Larry Barker has gotten himself in one fine mess that just may cost him his job. On Wednesday, June 30, Barker, along with a news cameraman, went to the Albuquerque Convention Center where the New Mexico Cannabis Legalization Conference was being held and where Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham was expected to attend and speak. Barker did not go to the convention center to attend the conference but rather to try to get an unscheduled interview and an exclusive with the Governor on an unrelated matter.
VERBAL AND PHYSICAL ASSAULT
Once at the convention center, Barker proceeded to confront Governor press secretary Nora Meyers Sackett demanding an interview with the Governor. Things escalated to the point that Barker verbally and physically accosted Meyers Sackett to the point that he backed her into a wall.
Barker got inches away from Sackett’s face and began to jab and point his finger at her. Sacket Myers was wearing a light blue face mask and the full expression on her face at the time was obstructed. Barker on the other hand had no face mask. A KRQE-TV camera man with a shoulder news camera stood behind Barker and filmed the entire incident. Ostensibly, the camera man did not try to intervene and stop the confrontation.
Standing by within just a few feet was an unidentified man wearing a suit and tie with his hands crossed to below his waist in front him, also wearing a facemask, who ostensibly did absolutely nothing. A cell phone photo of the incident was taken by a third party posted on social media and all hell broke loose.
After the incident and after the photo was posted on social media, other news outlets contacted KRQE executives for comment. On Friday,July 2, Vice President and General Manager Bill Anderson, after reviewing video of the interaction, issued and apology for Barker’s conduct and said:
“I want to be very clear that regardless of the story he was pursuing, Larry’s conduct was completely inappropriate and inexcusable … we deeply regret what happened. … KRQE and its corporate parent have well-defined policies related to employee conduct: We expect employees to demonstrate high standards of business conduct in their relationships, to be exemplary citizens in the communities in which they live and work, and to treat everyone with respect. Larry violated these policies, and we are addressing his actions directly with him.”
Nora Meyers Sackett called the incident upsetting and unprofessional and commented on the incident on Twitter:
“The press and I don’t have to be best buddies all the time but I always respect them and their work, and them as people. [Wednesday] was a real low point in that relationship when I was physically accosted and practically assaulted by a KRQE reporter while doing my job at a public event.”
REACTION BY RIO GRANDE CHAPTER OF THE SOCIETY OF PROFESSIONAL JOURNALISTS
The Rio Grande chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) condemned the incident. The SPJ Board of Directors posted in part on its website the following statement:
It’s one thing to read a description: “Pushing, shoving and a finger in the face.”
It’s quite another thing to see it.
In the photo, KRQE’s Larry Barker confronts Nora Sackett, press secretary for the Office of the Governor — her back is against a wall, his finger is in her face.
This is unacceptable.
Journalists and public information officers naturally butt heads in the name of protecting different interests. However, decency and respect during any interaction between the two is of utmost importance.
… Over the past year we have seen numerous assaults on journalists who were simply doing their jobs covering protests. Actions like Barker’s are not only reprehensible, they endanger all of us at a time when we already face numerous threats while we try to bring important news to the public.
The Society of Professional Journalists, Rio Grande Chapter calls for both KRQE and Barker to address the situation publicly and offer an apology to Sackett.
Very quickly, on Thursday, July 1, a photo of the encounter between Barker and Sackett surfaced on Twitter, in a quote tweet of Sackett’s thread laying out her thoughts on her interaction with Barker. She also was polite and didn’t name names aside from a mention of the news organization that employs Barker.
After seeing the photo and reading the accounts of Barker’s confrontation of Sackett, we, as members of the Society of Professional Journalists and the New Mexico journalism community, were appalled. No person, especially a journalist, should treat another human being the way Barker treated Sackett.
However frustrated, angry and just plain pissed off we get at each other, it is never, ever, ever — let us repeat — EVER even remotely acceptable to physically corner a source, no matter how important we think it may be.
… [I]t sounds like the altercation between Barker and Sackett got physical — pushing and shoving. The photo shows Barker’s face a bare 12 inches away from Sackett’s and his finger even closer.
It is actions like those displayed by Barker that give our community a bad name and jeopardize our reputation. We are ashamed that a long-time New Mexico journalist would resort to such means as physical confrontation, no matter the situation at hand.
The link to the statement by Society of Professional Journalists is here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
“Ambush is the act or instance of lying concealed so as to attack by surprise. Journalism is the occupation of reporting, writing, editing, photographing, or broadcasting news. Ambush Journalism is commonly seen in American public affairs and tabloid programs. Ambush Journalism has been around for as long [time] … and will continue to be around in the future.
The question however is if Ambush Journalism is ethical or not. This is a very hard question to answer! First who decides what is ethical? That judgement is left in the hands of both journalist and the public. Some journalists use this technique to obtain the latest and hottest news [and] the outcome can sometimes be damaging or viewed as unethical. Other journalists refuse to use this technique because they feel that it violates the basic journalistic standards of balance and fairness.”
The link to the source quote is here:
There are many words that can be used to describe Larry Barker’s actions and his treatment of Governor Press Secretary Nora Meyers Sackett. Those words include inappropriate, unacceptable, unprofessional, terrible, bullying, intimidation, outrageous, verbal assault. Call it what it is: Ambush Journalism and “unethical conduct” which is what Larry Barker has gotten away with for decades.
What Larry Barker did to Governor Press Secretary Nora Meyers Sackett is referred to by public officials and elected officials as an “ambush” to get unrehearsed reactions to questions for a negative news story the reporter intends to write to place the official in a bad light. Frankly, blindsiding of public and elected officials by the news media is done all the time, and is to be expected and will continue, but that does not make it right. Larry Barker over decades as an investigative reporter has perfected it and has taken it to a new level of disrespect, something he is known for by his reputation.
It was good to see that Nora Meyers Sackett had a facemask on to protect her from Barker’s spittle. Any public or elected official who has been on the receiving end of Larry’s self-righteousness such as this knows he has bad breath.
All too often reporters like Barker demand respect but do not return it. It is conduct like this that results in absolute hostility by public officials towards the media. It is truly amazing that Barker has gotten away with this for decades no doubt because he edits it out in his stories. When a reporter becomes the news, it’s time for them to go and if they can simply retire.
If KRQE-TV executives such as Vice President and General Manager Bill Anderson intend to take any disciplinary action against Larry Barker, they need to include the cameraman for standing by and not doing anything to stop Barker’s outrageous conduct.