Good reporting or inexcusable trespass?
While tracking down a story about former White House communications director Hope Hicks, New York magazine writer Olivia Nuzzi ended up, without invitation, in the home office of Corey Lewandowski, President Trump’s former campaign manager. Now Lewandowski is threatening legal action.
Nuzzi’s long and detailed profile of Hicks generated so much buzz that the Columbia Journalism Review interviewed her about it. In it, she disclosed she had been trying to get Lewandowski to talk to her, but “he fell off the face of the earth.” Meanwhile, she was also trying to talk to another source, who lives in the basement of the townhouse that also serves as headquarters for Turnberry Solutions, a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm. Lewandowski lives upstairs.
When she couldn’t get past a gate to the basement door, she told CJR, “I walked up the steps to the main door and knocked, for like, 10 minutes. And I’m knocking, knocking, nobody’s answering. But after a while, I just touched the door knob and the door was open. I walked in and I’m in the house, by myself. So I took this photo of the quote on the wall.
“I peered around but I didn’t walk fully into the house. I texted my boyfriend, ‘You know, I just walked into the house, because nobody was answering the door.’ And he said it probably wasn’t legal and that I should leave. . . . I went outside and continued to knock on the door for awhile longer, and then Jason Osborne, who works at Turnberry Solutions and worked for Trump in the final stretch, answered the door.”
She isn’t the first reporter to end up in an office she wasn’t invited to enter. I still recall, with chilling clarity, such an incident from several decades ago. I was a State House reporter. Michael Dukakis was governor. And Edward J. King, who had shocked Dukakis by beating him in a 1978 primary, and then losing to him in 1982, was said to be thinking about running again, this time as a Republican. An editor told me to get the story. King didn’t return a phone call, so I went to his downtown Boston office. It was a cold winter night. Lights were on, but no one was around. His office door was open and the walls were covered with grip-and-grin photos of him with other pols. I stepped over the threshold, thinking maybe there was something on his desk that would indicate his plans. Then, fear and common sense clicked in. I ran from the office, to the street, where I realized I lost a glove somewhere along the way. Discovery would have been a problem, given the libel suit King had previously filed against the Globe.
In my case, there was no closed door, and I was walking around an official office. Or so a lawyer for the Globe would have argued. Nuzzi opened an unlocked door, in a dwelling where Lewandowski apparently has a designated office. As Andrew Napolitano, a former New Jersey Superior Court judge and a Fox News legal analyst, told the network, “She broke, entered, trespassed.”
But Harvey Silverglate, a criminal defense and civil liberties lawyer, notes, “The law is actually more rigorous and unforgiving in theory than in practice.” There’s wiggle room, especially for certain professions, he said, like journalists, private investigators, and documentary filmmakers.
“We live in a world where we are constantly seeking to balance risk versus reward,” said Silverglate. “But every so often we either go too far or we come upon a person who is hypersensitive to offense or intrusion or perhaps particularly vulnerable.”
To write the Hicks profile, Nuzzi knocked on many doors and interviewed many people. In a journalism world taken over by e-mail, texting, and Twitter, her dedication to old-fashioned reporting is admirable. From her account to CJR, her entry into Lewandowski’s office was not planned. It just happened.
The thrill of the hunt pushes journalists into places where they shouldn’t be. It can be rationalized as a quest for truth and answers — or defined strictly as law-breaking.
What would I think if I caught Ed King’s ghost edging closer to my desk?