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On Friday morning, the world got a firsthand look inside the apartment of the alleged perpetrators of a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, that left 14 people dead. Watching news organizations scramble to exploit that access, however, left many people profoundly uncomfortable.
MSNBC and CNN camera crews spent the morning rifling through the Redlands, California, apartment shared by Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik. Police killed the couple in a shootout on Wednesday, after they allegedly opened fire at a holiday party for the San Bernardino County Health Department held in the conference room of a center for people with developmental disabilities.
Videos from the scene showed a crowded situation inside the apartment, with reporters opening drawers, looking at children’s toys, and rifling through stacks of photos.
On their live broadcasts, reporters revealed the personal information of not just the suspects but also their family members, holding up personal documents like driver’s licenses and Social Security cards.
MSNBC just showed the driver’s license of Syed Farook’s mother, Rafia Farook, and her SS# in a live broadcast
— Jason Leopold (@JasonLeopold) December 4, 2015
Eventually, members of the public joined the news media inside the apartment.
CNN journo on scene says no longer just reporters: “There’s a woman with a dog walking into the house…”
— David Folkenflik (@davidfolkenflik) December 4, 2015
MSNBC, the outlet that bore the brunt of criticism for being the first to air footage from inside the apartment, released the following statement about its actions:
“MSNBC and other news organizations were invited into the home by the landlord after law enforcement officials had finished examining the site and returned control to the landlord. Although MSNBC was not the first crew to enter the home, we did have the first live shots from inside. We regret that we briefly showed images of photographs and identification cards that should not have been aired without review.”
The FBI did not respond to a request for comment.
A spokesperson for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department told Grasswire that the apartment was still part of an active investigation and had not been cleared.
There have been conflicting reports about exactly how the media got into the apartment in the first place. Some reporters have said that the landlord allowed them inside. But the landlord said that camera crews barged in uninvited after he opened the door.
After the scene quickly turned chaotic, the door to the apartment was once again boarded up, as a large crowd amassed outside. Officials reportedly then escorted the landlord away from the scene.
CNN reporters outside San Bernardino killers’ home says landlord was escorted away by law enforcement, put into unmarked vehicle
— Jon Passantino (@passantino) December 4, 2015
The reaction on social media to journalists’ intrusion into the apartment was instant and visceral.
Wow MSNBC truly has zero integrity. Ruined an entire crime scene by going through the terrorist’s home.
— Tim O’Neil (@TimONeil12) December 4, 2015
The media just ruined an entire crime scene. There are no words.
— Dana Loesch (@DLoesch) December 4, 2015
Thoughts and prayers with MSNBC’s legal office.
— Yair Rosenberg (@Yair_Rosenberg) December 4, 2015
Think of every bad decision you made this week. Now tell yourself, Hey, I’m not MSNBC.
— Mary Beth Williams (@embeedub) December 4, 2015
MSNBC just broke Twitter because it’s the first time everyone has agreed on a topic on social media
— michaeljsmith (@michaeljsmith0) December 4, 2015
AFP White House correspondent Andrew Beatty put it best.
Please disregard this as the work of a few extremist zealots, they are not representative of our group.
— Andrew Beatty (@AndrewBeatty) December 4, 2015
Update 2:24pm CT, Dec. 4: Added MSNBC statement.
Additional reporting by Rae Votta.
Photo via Dwaine Scott/Periscope | Remix by Jason Reed
Aaron Sankin is a former Senior Staff Writer at the Daily Dot who covered the intersection of politics, technology, online privacy, Twitter bots, and the role of dank memes in popular culture. He lives in Seattle, Washington. He joined the Center for Investigative Reporting in 2016.