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Reporter’s notebook: What to do when someone tries to hide the truth from you

WOAI’s Brian Collister, the investigative television reporter often seen shoving a fuzzy microphone in the faces of fleeing public officials, has a new blog at mySA. Brian is one of the few TV reporters in town who actually digs through records and analyzes public data.

One of my favorite stories by Brian features a skillful interview he conducted with Christine Torres, the disgraced executive director of the Bexar County Housing Authority. It’s a good example of how to handle a public official who is trying to hide the truth.

Brian found out the housing authority was giving mortgage assistance to only one person: Torres’ daughter-in-law. In this news video, Brian interviewed Torres.

Notice how Brian simply let Torres talk.

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At first she denied the housing authority gave mortgage assistance to anyone. Then she acknowledged one person was receiving assistance, but refused to say who it was. Then Brian demonstrated he already knew who it was, and asked why Torres’ daughter-in-law deserved taxpayer help to own a house.

One of the best things journalists can do when confronted with someone who is lying or trying to hide something is to get the falsehood on the record. Don’t interrupt. Don’t get indignant. Let them dig their own hole.

Then go back and pick apart their story.

What happened to Torres? She resigned and later pleaded guilty to a felony.

2 thoughts on “Reporter’s notebook: What to do when someone tries to hide the truth from you

  1. I love the part where she says she will tell him off camera, and he point-blank says: “No.”

    I’m not a great investigative reporter, and this tip – to let them talk and THEN pick apart the story instead of stopping the subject point by point – is great advice.

    Thanks for posting this.

  2. Thanks Carmen, that was another great part of the video. There’s really no reason to go off camera or off the record in a situation like that. Good lesson to remember.

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