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Larry Barker confronting press secretary Nora Meyers Sackett on June 30, 2021. Photo courtesy of David Dabney on Twitter.

EDITORIAL: Student journalists condemn local harassment in journalism industry

Accostment by Larry Barker and delayed apology remain inexcusable


As young journalists, we look to more seasoned reporters as role models who help guide us through a demanding and complicated field, discuss impenetrable questions of ethics, educate us about what being a healthy journalist means and at times, literally lead us through tear gas and riot shields. The type of role models we do not need are those that physically harass sources and diminish the credibility of journalism, as Larry Barker did last week.

On June 30, Barker, a KRQE reporter and veteran New Mexico journalist, cornered and accosted Nora Sackett, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s press secretary, at the Albuquerque Convention Center with his pointed finger inches from her masked face. By doing this, Barker ignored his duty as a journalist and mentor, and left a cautionary tale in his wake, showcasing the moment that the pursuit of information was abused and crossed the line into physical and verbal harassment.

Not only is Barker shoving his finger down Sackett’s throat while he backs her into a corner rightfully upsetting and disturbing, but the fact that he wasn’t even wearing a mask displays deliberate neglect and disrespect on his end.

Journalists implicitly hold a significant amount of power, and misuse of this power is painfully evident when journalists use their positions to pressure or intimidate sources, as Barker did.

In a profession centered around finding and revealing the truth, journalists need to abide by a high moral code. An example of such a code is directly laid out by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). Their code of ethics states that the “pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness” and also urges journalists to “expose unethical conduct in journalism, including within their organizations” — neither of these values were upheld by Barker or KRQE.

The journalism community in New Mexico was quick to jump on the immoral actions of Larry Barker after Sackett tweeted a thread on July 1 about her physical accostment at a public event, but did KRQE or Barker acknowledge the incident before there was public pressure to?

No, they did not. Their delayed and lazy response for their reporter’s actions defies everything that journalists worldwide should strive for: a moral compass that guides those in journalism as they pursue the truth. Simply stated, it took peer pressure for KRQE’s apology to arise.

After the incident occured on June 30, the photo was then posted to Twitter on July 1 — which Barker refused to comment on due to station policy — yet an apology wasn’t released until July 2 by KRQE Vice President and General Manager Bill Anderson. It took two days for this team to realize that harassment is not acceptable — that’s two days too long to realize that this never should have happened. Even further, one has to ask whether that apology would have been issued if nobody had photographed the harassment or if there was no pressure for a public statement.

The Rio Grande chapter of the SPJ wrote an editorial on the incident, reiterating the point that this harassment “is unacceptable.”

“However frustrated, angry and just plain pissed off we get at each other, it is never, ever, ever — let us repeat — EVER even remotely acceptable to physically corner a source, no matter how important we think it may be,” the board of directors wrote in the editorial.

While KRQE acknowledged the issue and said Barker apologized, it’s unclear what disciplinary actions were actually taken as the organization refused to disclose them publicly. And if those potential disciplinary actions were enforced on Barker, were they also enforced on the bystanders that watched as a colleague so clearly went beyond his rights as a journalist? Refusing consequential information to the public concerning these types of incidents creates a loophole for unethical actions, such as those that Barker took, allowing bullies to continue in their ways without any real repercussions.

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The Daily Lobo has been mulling over this inexcusable occurrence since it happened last week and must hold firm in our stance against it. We as students can confidently tell you that it doesn’t take time or experience to comprehend that this behavior is disgusting no matter who you are or what profession you hold.

In a career where it’s already difficult to maintain credibility through increasing calls of “fake news” and attacks on journalists, the last thing we need is a reporter demeaning the entire field’s reputation by blatantly harassing a woman just trying to do her job.

From a student journalist perspective, it’s disheartening to see a long-time, experienced New Mexican journalist resort to these tactics. From a female student perspective, it’s crushing to see that this harassment, both physical and verbal, continues throughout your life at every level in the professional field due to your gender.

This harassment is inadmissible, and this incident likely wouldn’t have occurred had Barker been addressing a man. The overt sexism evident here is a sad reminder that while journalism has come a long way in the past 20 or so years, the difficulties women face in not only politics and journalism but in every professional field are still abundantly clear.

It’s always frightening to write an editorial like this as student journalists. What chances will be taken away from us for acknowledging the truth? Will we lose future job opportunities for calling out an established news outlet as well as a specific journalist? It’s a systemic issue that stems from matters of sexism, racism and more — the pressure to stay silent and not rock the boat.

However, we refuse to remain silent for something that is so obviously wrong. The Daily Lobo will not condone this type of behavior; we are students attempting to learn what is right and wrong in journalism, but this goes far beyond what is wrong in not only this field but in life.

This editorial is unsigned as it represents the views of the Daily Lobo editorial board.

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