A Leschi Elementary parent was shopping a story tailor-made for the local news: a black janitor with an arrested record, a hidden camera, a basement office, numerous complaints from the community, an uncooperative central figure, a school district unaware, and innocent school children.
A slam dunk. A no-brainer for a television reporter attempting to draw viewers during sweeps week.
KING5 television looked into the allegations and passed on the story. KIRO7 and reporter Chris Halsne decided to run with it, featuring the story as a five-minute package on its evening newscast. In doing so, KIRO 7 and Halsne decided not pursue ethical journalism, the latest in a string of stories of the years that have failed to meet even a minimum standard of ethics.
That story was the subject of a Washington News Council Public Hearing Saturday morning, the 16th, at Seattle’s Town Hall—a hearing KIRO7 refused to participate in. Complaining witnesses included a representative from International Union of Operating Engineers Local 609, the Union representing the janitor at the center of Halsne’s story, Chester Harris, debunking the relevance of Harris’ arrest record and Halsne’s allegation that the Seattle school district never conducted a background check on Harris. Two other witnesses, an office assistant at Leschi Elementary and a parent of a Leschi student, spoke glowingly of Harris’ professionalism and caring nature.
Probably the most outrageous aspect of Halsne’s story were the interviews he conducted with two members of the community who alleged Harris was a repeat offender, made children uncomfortable and family members uneasy. Turns out, the two concerned members of the community were related and the woman interviewed, identified only as a parent of a Leschi student–due to an “unrelated domestic violence issue”–was described at the WNC’s Hearing Saturday morning as a “nightmare” with complaints against him from at least 15 members of Leschi Elementary.
Halsne didn’t disclose those facts. He may not have even bothered to find out himself.
The amount of mistakes, misstatements, and outright lies in Halsne’s story have been described elsewhere and the results of the hearing Saturday morning can be found here.
At best, the story is professionally embarrassing. At worst, it’s criminal.
This is not the first time Halsne’s reporting has drawn wide-ranging criticism. In 2003, Halsne filed a story the Seattle Weekly reported on that drew criticism from many different circles and forced Halsne to attempt to defend himself on the radio. Then in 2008, KIRO7 ran two Halsne stories about alleged voter-fraud. Both stories were filled with factual errors and badly missed even mediocre standards of journalistic ethics.
The results of the WNC hearing Saturday morning, and some of Halsne’s previous attempts at journalism, clearly show he is a television reporter to be wary of. It is disappointing that his employers have not issued an apology on his behalf.