Sanford, Florida, is having a hard time dealing with the intense national media scrutiny over the Trayvon Martin case, but it's learning: It only took a day to walk back its threat to arrest reporters for asking off-duty city employees questions. That's a practice known as "reporting," but on Wednesday Sanford decided to call it "stalking." Then it quickly realized that arresting reporters is no way to improve the tenor of your media image, and 24 hours after issuing the threat, it was rescinded.
The city issued a press release requesting "that members of the media refrain from approaching, phoning or emailing city employees when they are in their roles as private citizens" and threatening that "Law enforcement officials will not hesitate to make an arrest for stalking." Wait, what? Arrest a reporter for asking questions? That was our first response, and ABC's George Stephanopoulos felt the same way, the Orlando Sentinel pointed out, indicating the city was about to bring on a lot more scrutiny from the national press than if it would just let reporters report. The local press pushed back, the Sentinel also wrote: "An attorney representing the Orlando Sentinel and WFTV-Channel 9 wrote to City Manager Norton Bonaparte Jr. contending that the directive was unconstitutional."
On Thursday night, it issued its next press release, following up on Wednesday's: "Upon reevaluation, it is clear that portions of that Advisory were improvidently issued. The first two paragraphs of that Advisory are hereby rescinded." It's a mildly embarrassing flip-flop for the city, but a lot less embarrassing than trying to defend a directive against reporting.