Opinion Columns & Blogs

When, why The Eagle interviews defendants in jail

Two high-profile crime stories in the news recently touched off a string of questions, comments and concerns from readers about when, how and why The Eagle interviews defendants in murder cases and publishes their side of the story about a criminal case.

I don’t have a single answer to the questions raised to us this week and last week: Why did we let Curt Mitchell give an explanation about why he killed Tanya Tandoc? Why didn’t we interview Anthony Bluml about his role in the murder of his adoptive parents, Roger and Melissa Bluml? Why give killers a voice at all?

When readers see a story they would rather not read, often their reaction is to say we shouldn’t publish it. Other readers make the argument that not publishing the story means information is withheld from the entire community, and they don’t understand why people who don’t want to read it just don’t read it. This sums up the feedback on two articles we’ve published recently using documents that detail what Curt Mitchell says happened when he killed Tandoc.

Several readers described those articles as an “interview” with Mitchell, but to be clear, those news stories were based on court and police documents. Our reporters did not interview Mitchell. I recognize those articles are difficult to read, especially for people close to Tandoc, a well-known and beloved restaurateur in Wichita. As other readers have pointed out, though, the need to understand – as much as anyone can – the “why” of such a brutal crime can be a basic step in healing for some people. The need or want to know is not universal, and there’s not a right answer that fits everyone.

Those who asked why we interviewed Mitchell and not Bluml should understand first that we didn’t interview either. Interviews with defendants in jail are up to the defendant to invite media members as visitors. It’s not uncommon for The Eagle’s reporters to write to defendants, or convicted inmates, and request interviews.

Our reporter requested an interview with Anthony Bluml in 2013. He responded about two weeks ago, offering an interview. But he sought a “starting offer” of $500 in a media bidding process for an interview. The Eagle has long had a policy of not paying for news sources or interviews because doing so can potentially draw into question the integrity of news coverage or the motives of sources. Many major news organizations, including the Associated Press and New York Times, do not pay sources for news. Our decision not to pursue an interview was not one of news judgment about Bluml’s criminal case.

Our goal is to put as many facts in front of our readers as possible on news of importance so they can decide what they think and feel about it, but never to veer from our standards in the process.

Sherry Chisenhall