In the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, proceedings were disrupted by what Judge Bruce Schroeder considered a major breach of security after NBC was found to be following the van of jurors. Given the threats in the case and the concern over jury intimidation, Schroeder was irate. In response, NBC released a statement that some of us found vague and misleading. Now a police video at the scene with NBC freelancer James Morrison confirms that the statement was intentionally misleading on the critical question of whether Morrison was ordered to follow jurors.
In the hearing, Schroeder announced that Morrison was pulled over after he sped through a red light to continue to follow the van. He said that Morrison confirmed that a NBC producer (later identified as Irene Byon) told him to follow the jurors. The incident led to MSNBC being banned from the entire courthouse for the duration of the case.
After the incident, NBC released the following statement:
“Last night, a freelancer received a traffic citation. While the traffic violation took place near the jury van, the freelancer never contacted or intended to contact the jurors during deliberations, and never photographed or intended to photograph them. We regret the incident and will fully cooperate with the authorities on any investigation.”
At the time, I wrote the statement was notably ambiguous and possibly misleading:
NBC’s statement is confusing in one respect in starting with “while the traffic violation took place near the jury van.” That suggests that it was a coincidence that the traffic accident occurred near the jury van. The question is whether the freelancer was instructed by NBC to follow the jury bus. That should be easy to deny if it is untrue.
Finally, the fact that he is a freelancer is immaterial. News organizations commonly use freelancers for a host of different positions. When they are working for a network, they are agents of that network. Again, NBC is ambiguous. It goes out of its way to note that this person is a freelancer but not whether he was working freelance for NBC at the time.
Now, the video seems to confirm that NBC was intentionally misleading on the key fact of whether it ordered Morrison to follow the jurors.
In the video from the night of Nov. 17, police ask Morrison why he was following the vehicle.
The officer asks Morrison “so were you following a vehicle?” and Morrison responded “I was trying to see – I was being called by New York going, maybe these are the people you need to follow, but I don’t know, I was trying to –”
The officer then interrupts and asks directly “You were trying to what?”
“Just do what they told me to do,” Morrison said.
“New York told you to follow a vehicle?” the officer asked.
“Yes,” Morrison responded.
The officer continued to ask how they knew about this van as the one carrying the jurors and Morrison just said that he did what “New York” told him to do. He said he was “just trying to find a location, that’s all.”
Morrison then called Byon and put her on the phone with the police officer. The officer asked Byon about why NBC ordered the following of certain “vehicles.” It was Byon who inadvertently admitted that they wanted to specifically follow jurors. She said that they were not trying to actually speak to “any of the jury members.”
Byon could be heard saying
“Hi officer, my name is Irene. I’m a booking producer with NBC News. We were just trying to respectfully – just trying to see if it’s possible to find any leads about the case. And so we were just keeping our distance, just to see where people involved in the trial are positioned. By no means were we trying to get in contact with any of the jury members or whoever is in the car. We just were trying to see where key players in the trial may be at.”
The officer then asked “You advised him to follow any vehicle? Did you know which vehicle he was following?”
Byon responded that “We just had our people positioned in different areas of the courthouse to see if anyone would be able to –”
The important take away is that there was never any question that NBC ordered Morrison to follow the jurors. That was the critical question for the officer and for the Court. Yet, it is the one thing that NBC left out of its statement. As a news organization, NBC would shred a subject of a story who happened to leave out such a material fact. Instead, NBC issued a statement that could be read to suggest that this was just a total and unfortunate coincidence. It was merely a “traffic violation took place near the jury van.”
There is unlikely to be any media demands for NBC to address the misleading statement, but the tape shows that Judge Schroeder was right to ban MSNBC, which not only followed jurors but then failed to be open about its own conduct in the controversy.