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Reporters Entered the Home of the San Bernardino Shooting Suspects, and Things Got Weird

Reporters from MSNBC and CNN "rushed" into the suspects' apartments before broadcasting live close-ups of personal documents including a drivers' license and Social Security card.
December 4, 2015, 9:05pm

Two major cable news networks entered an apartment Friday in which the suspects of the San Bernardino shooting apparently resided and broadcast themselves rummaging through items ranging from personal identification to baby clothes, prompting a flood of indignation on social media.

Reporters from MSNBC and CNN reportedly forced their way into Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik's home and began rifling through the suspects' personal belongings, holding up documents to the camera including family photos, a social security card, and an expired driver's license belonging to Farook's mother, who is not a suspect in the shooting case.

MSNBC just doxed Rafia Farook, mother of a terrorist, on live television. I've blurred the important bits. — David Boles (@DavidBoles)December 4, 2015

Not long after the streams were broadcast, many people, including members of the media, took to Twitter and Facebook to call out the news organizations for their lack of ethics and potential violation of the scene of an active crime investigation. Shortly after the incident, MSNBC defended its actions by claiming that authorities were aware of their presence and that the landlord had let the crew into the apartment.

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As — Erika Masonhall (@ErikaMasonhall)December 4, 2015

A man named Doyle Miller, who said he was the couple's landlord, later told CBS News that reporters "rushed" into the apartment after he pried a plank of wood from the shuttered home, and he did not willingly let them in.

Landlord says he didn't allow media into San Bernardino shooters' apartment: 'they rushed' — CBS Los Angeles (@CBSLA)December 4, 2015

Someone at the FBI's Los Angeles bureau reportedly told Mashable at about the same time that the bureau hadn't approved the press tour.

Asked FBI Los Angeles if suspects' apartment now open to the media/public:

— Brian Ries (@moneyries)December 4, 2015

About 30 minutes later, however, politics writer Greg Sargent tweeted that the FBI's LA bureau told him that the home was no longer under active investigation, saying "Our search is over. We released the scene yesterday."

Martin Reardon, a former FBI counterterrorism officer and current senior vice president of strategic security firm the Soufan Group, told VICE News that it was likely that the FBI's evidence response team had already thoroughly swept the apartment to look for things like cellphones and laptops, as well as other physical evidence, such as explosive residue, IEDs, weapons, and any letters.

"This is the biggest investigation the FBI current has," he said. "But they do this day in and day out, and I'm fairly confident they wouldn't release [the home] back to the owner without gathering all the evidence they needed. They can't keep it locked up indefinitely."

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The FBI echoed Reardon.

"Regarding Redlands, we searched the residence and seized evidence on Wednesday evening and the search lasted until Thursday evening," Laura Eimiller, a spokeswoman for the FBI's Los Angeles office, told VICE News. "We left the residence without incident. Once we conclude a search, the location is again in the custody of the property owner/residents. The landlord evidently let them in this morning. It's his prerogative regardless of how unusual. We have no say in a matter of private property once it's in custody of others."

CNN later clarified that it had specifically made an editorial decision not to show "close-up" footage of the personal materials, but the backlash was swift on social media.

This is journalistic malpractice. — Adam Goldstein (@A_H_Goldstein)December 4, 2015

It was also not clear whether members of the public had joined the journalists as they scoured the apartment, handling everything from baby toys and photos to items in the couples' closet. One man appeared to be standing in the apartment casually holding a can of soda.

Hours after the media melee, the FBI also announced that they are now officially looking into the shooting as an act of terrorism. Earlier today, law enforcement officials told the AP and CNN that Malik had pledged allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State in a Facebook post the day of the shooting, but had deleted it before carrying out the attack with her husband Wednesday.

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