By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

An ugly confrontation leads to an apology


The first time was kind of funny. On Wednesday it got quite a bit uglier than that.

New Haven Independent managing editor Melissa Bailey showed up a little before 10 a.m. at the Roberto Clemente Leadership Academy for a scheduled interview with the principal, Pam Franco. Management of the K-8 school was turned over to a private contractor this year as part of the city’s nationally recognized education-reform program.

Waiting for Bailey was Chris Hoffman, spokesman for the New Haven Public Schools. Hoffman, Media Nation readers may recall, was the star of an amusing video standoff with Bailey last May. This time, though, he jumped ugly when Bailey tried to shoot video of him. He lost his temper, pushed her camera down and can be heard uttering what sounds like an F-bomb into his cellphone as he walks away from her.

He then stomps back toward Bailey with the order: “Turn the camera off.”

Bailey: “Please stop. I’m in a public place, Chris.”

Later in the day, Hoffman contacted the Independent and issued the following statement: “I apologize to Melissa Bailey for my conduct today. It was wrong and unprofessional, and I deeply regret my actions.”

Here is Bailey’s account of what happened.

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  1. David Streever

    I suspect that Mr. Hoffman would have behaved quite differently if Ms. Bailey was a Mr. Bailey. He threatened her, and it was horribly inappropriate.

  2. There’s no excuse for that type of behavior. It is likely Mr. Hoffman is under extreme stress, but to physically intimate a journalist (especially a female journalist) is way out of line. And privatizing a public school seems outrageous in so many ways…

  3. Dan Kennedy

    David and George: I should add that I’ve accompanied Bailey on several reporting trips. She is the consummate professional — she never raises her voice, always maintains her cool but she doesn’t shy away from asking what she needs to ask.

  4. Carol Brooks Ball

    I’m a longtime (female) journalist and have been in plenty of these situations over the years. That said, the introduction of a video camera (regardless of its size, i.e. a small, pocket-sized, hand-held or a photog’s large over-the-shoulder), ramps up the intensity of any encounter between a journalist and an interviewee (or in this case, gatekeeper).

    In other words, watching this video made me very uncomfortable in that I felt the reporter was intentionally provoking the guy who was quite clearly imploring (eventually ordering) her to turn the camera off before he would talk.

    Wouldn’t her off-camera notes about his gate-keeping have sufficed?

    Was this ugly, on-camera, egg-the-spokesguy-on encounter really necessary for the reporter to get what she came for … an interview with the principal? If this guy was preventing her from getting her interview, why wouldn’t she have complied with his request to shut off the camera, turned on her heel, headed back to her newsroom, and immediately posted an online story about the incident, humiliating and shaming the cowering, hiding principal?

    Wasn’t that the real story here?

  5. Mike Benedict

    @Carol, it sounds like you would have given up too easily. If every reporter bailed at the first sign of a roadblock and then retreated to write a public whine about the roadblock, that’s all readers would ever get to read.

    From everything I have read, the reporter had permission to use the camera and was where she was supposed to be when she was supposed to be there. Why is it up to her to back down? Shouldn’t she be allowed to get the story she came to get?

  6. Dan Kennedy

    Carol: The folks at the NHI are not print reporters. They’re multimedia reporters. They may whip out a notebook, a voice recorder or a video camera as part of doing their jobs. Bailey was on public property. Hoffman is a public official. Not sure what there is left to say.

  7. David Streever

    Carol, I think you’ve really misunderstood the scenario.

    What right does he have to demand that she turn the camera off? What right does he have to act that way?

    Bailey had permission from the school system to be there–with a camera–and after securing permission, showing up for the interview, she is intercepted by a man who threatens her, and you think the “real story” is that she “provoked” him?

    I’m more than a little uncomfortable with your description of the scenario. As long as she was following the law, and had cleared everything with the school system beforehand, I don’t understand why you are trying to blame her. She had permission to interview teachers on camera, and he arrives and orders her not to use the camera, and to turn it off. He even grabs the camera. At that point, she has every right to be afraid or uncomfortable, and keep the camera on for her own safety.

    I really think you’ve misread this situation and are making an excuse for Hoffman that he does not deserve. The way he treated Melissa–a direct threat, physically interacting with her against her stated wishes, and swearing/yelling was awful. He is a public figure, and should be comfortable being recorded in a public space.

    That incidents like this happen, and people defend the man, tells me our society has a long way to go toward real equality.

  8. David Streever

    Carol, one last thought, as you are a journalist.

    The public has a “right to know”–as a journalist, do you think that journalists should give up on a story when a public figure demands that they not cover it? It sounds like that is what you are advocating.

    I’m grateful to Melissa, that she put up with an abusive encounter, to accurately and fully report on her experience. I’m grateful that we have journalists of her caliber in New Haven.

  9. Kudos to Melissa for standing her ground. Well done, and a great public service to expose this kind of attitude toward public scrutiny.

  10. C.E. Stead

    OK, but I have a question.

    As Dan noted, they have a history. He looks almost fearful, flinching away as she speaks. We don’t see her expression or demeanor, but he reacts strongly.

    When he turned away, why did she follow him? He seemed to be headed out to the parking lot. Nobody else was barring her from her original mission of filming INSIDE the school, were they?

  11. Matt Kelly

    (1) This spokesman dweeb needs to start yoga classes, because clearly he doesn’t understand that this is just a job and 100 years from now, nobody will give a damn. I’m pretty sure nobody will give a damn six months from now, other than him and Bailey. What a twerp.

    (2) A strong argument that Bailey (and other reporters) should just invest in a micro-camera disguised as a broach or something, and be done with it.

  12. Mike Pardee

    I’m leaning toward Carol’s view.

    Yes, there’s no question the school flak is way out of line here. He should be disciplined by his bosses.

    Still, after viewing this little picture might the viewer be forgiven for thinking our reporter here has seen one too many Michael Moore in-your-face documentaries?

    Maybe that’s unfair. Just the same, looks like she got back to the newsroom without her intended feature. That’s too bad. But, hey, not all was lost. At least she got something to upload to UTube. Pass the popcorn. Journalism lives to see another day.

  13. Mike Benedict

    @C.E.: I think you are parsing this way too fine. He’s a man. She’s a woman. He acted aggressively toward her. She seems to recognize her camera makes for a good defense. My guess is she didn’t prepare to be semi-accosted in the line of duty that day. In that respect, her response seems reasonable to me. In the spur of the moment, what would you have done?

  14. L.K. Collins

    Having personally been run-over a number of times in the media scrum, I just have this quiet longing to see someone who is being hounded by the press to shove the camera lense down the reporter’s throat.

    I have never met a more unruly and inconsiderate people.

  15. David Streever

    I too have been misquoted/inaccurately portrayed in a news story.

    I don’t let it make me assume that all journalists are bad, however, and I especially don’t think that some journalists being inappropriate is a solid defense for a spokesman not being able to handle a camera.

    What would you be saying if this was Obama’s official spokesman, who interfered in a journalist covering a story that she had obtained permission for?

    The important thing that many commentators are missing is this was no ambush.

    Melissa has a chain of documents from gaining permission to be at the school–with a camera–to speak to certain individuals. As she tried to do that, he interfered. Then he demanded she turn off the camera, and became physically aggressive.

    In what universe do you consider his behavior normal? Sure, if he was a “joe on the street”, ambushed, provoked, and pushed, I could see the visceral response.

    Please, look at the context before you lay your baggage on this story. I understand that the paparazzi journalism makes people regard the whole profession as sordid, but that isn’t the case here at all. The reporter was planning to do what was ostensibly a “fluff” piece on a school that is doing great things.

    He looks afraid? Listen to her voice. Listen to the tension and fear evident in it. He outweighs her, is a man in a position of authority, and he is physically attempting to intimidate her. I think this is pretty clear cut.

  16. Dan Kennedy

    This is what the New Haven media are dealing with:

    The Board of Education quietly posted 24-hour advance notice of a Friday night pre-Christmas meeting to discuss “grade-altering” allegations at Hillhouse High School.

    Board officials rushed notice over to the City Clerk’s office after close of business at 5 p.m. Thursday.

    It did not alert the media of the meeting.

    The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday, after the close of city business before the Christmas holiday.

    Read the rest.

  17. Bob Gardner

    @ L.K.Collins
    Paparazzi? You’ve been chased all your life by Paparazzi?

  18. Dan Kennedy

    We’re also discussing this on Facebook, and here’s what Melissa Bailey posted there this morning:

    “Hi folks. I first raised my concerns with the spokesman off-camera, in a civil way. When the district official insisted on following me, I called my editor. I returned to the classroom and asked the official if we could speak in the hallway. I told him I would have to interview him on camera. I feel I gave him a fair forewarning.”

  19. L.K. Collins

    No, Bob. I was involved in the management of the events which the self-annointed eyes of the public felt was worthy of their presence. They could care less who they ran over with their cameras and backpacks flailing as long as they got to their victim first.

    And yes, there are good journalists. But the digital revolution seems to have bred a heightened level of entitlement.

  20. C.E. Stead

    “He’s a man. She’s a woman. He acted aggressively toward her….In the spur of the moment, what would you have done?”

    MB – ‘Snort’ (A lady-like snort, but a snort nonetheless). I am a woman, I sometimes use a videocamera, and I interview strangers all the time. I meet them in a public place, and am prepared for them to be charming, or upset, or angry, or all of the above. The insinuation that women need to be treated as delicate flowers by those they interview is an insult to all women journalists. (And for the record, I think even I could have taken him).

    They aren’t in a dark alley at 3 am, but the vestibule of a public building. Reading her comment, it sounds like he may not have regarded her comment that she would be taping the meeting as an announcement – that would explain some of the pained look on his face as he realized that she did mean it. Where one commenter heard fear in her voice, I heard excitement. None of us know. I still question why she would continue to follow him if she was genuinely intimidated/fearful for her safety.

    DK – this is about journalistic technique, not if the subject(s) are jackasses or not. If women must forego interviewing strange men in positions of authority who outweigh them, there goes my lifelong dream of interviewing Bill Clinton (I mean really – should I have been AFRAID of Ted Kennedy?)

  21. Mike Benedict

    @CE: No one is saying women needed to be treated like delicate flowers, least of all you. The point is that when a larger male is physically aggressive with a smaller female, as was the case here, standards for professionalism take on a wholly different bent. As well they should.

    The same thing happens in lockerooms, btw, with both male and female reporters.

  22. James Craven

    Ms. Bailey acted as I would have acted in a similar situation. She may have been after a different story, but when the school spokesman attempted to interfere he became the story. As such, her actions were entirely appropriate even if it meant following him toward the door.

    I would imagine, had he simply smiled and allowed her to conduct her business, he would never have been a part of a story.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Hoffman resigned earlier this evening. I’ll put something up tomorrow, but you can read the story at the NHI right now.

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