Did a Chattanooga Station put a Target on One Woman's Back?

Last week a Chattanooga woman was shot multiple times but survived an attack that left two others dead.

On Tuesday, police named a suspect in the case: 32-year-old Stephen Mobley, a convicted killer well known on Chattanooga's streets.

On Wednesday, Mobley surrendered.

The first death threat against the surviving witness came a few hours later, police said. And hours after that, WTVC NewsChannel 9 published the witness name, despite police concerns that this woman could now be killed.

In fact, back in May another witness to a quadruple shooting was killed, four months before she was set to testify in a murder trial following that shooting.

Witnesses to violent crimes in Chattanooga often later face intimidation and threats, authorities say. The threats can silence witnesses or scare them into changing their stories, which can derail prosecutions and allow the guilty to walk free. Often, witnesses never tell police what they know.

The woman who survived Monday's double homicide has a long road ahead in the case against Mobley, a man who beat a 2012 murder charge when the key witness in that case changed her story multiple times.

 Sgt. Josh May said. "This isn't just something that happens just in large cities or in the movies. We want to take extra precautions moving forward with victims and witnesses to keep them as safe as we can."

WTVC identified the woman in at least one evening newscast after police warned the station that withholding her identity was "crucial to her safety."

May called the station's action "incredibly frustrating," and said that by confirming a name under such circumstances "you tighten that bullseye on her back."

Mike Costa, general manager at WTVC, said the station aired the woman's name because of the public's right to know.

"WTVC believes in the public's right to know all relevant details, and the decision in this case is consistent with our historic reporting practices," Costa wrote in a statement. "Based on communication with the Chattanooga police, we thoughtfully considered the circumstances and applied the same standards we always do."

He declined to comment further.

Considering how much information to publish and what impact it will have on a community is a critical part of any media outlet's job, said Kevin Smith, former chairman of the Society of Professional Journalists ethics committee.

"Just because you have a right to do something doesn't mean there's a moral obligation for you to do it," he said.

The first two tenets in the Society of Professional Journalists' code of ethics say that journalists should first seek the truth and report it, and second, should minimize harm.

"We know that in the process of reporting we may create harm," Smith said. "But we need to be vigilant in making sure we don't create undue harm. Those two [tenets] are side by side for a reason."

H/T Times Free Press