Devlin's Interview With Washington University Student Hot Topic Among Aspiring Journalists

10:59 AM, Jan 23, 2007   |    comments
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By Ann Rubin (KSDK) - It is a controversial interview with a controversial man. Accused kidnapper Michael Devlin spoke to a reporter this weekend, who happens to be a college student. But local authorities say she lied to get into the jail and to get the story, telling jailers she was Devlin's friend. The interview is a hot topic among budding journalists at Washington University. "I think it's a great interview to get but I don't think it's an OK way to get it,” said Sarah Kliff, Editor in Chief of Student Life. "You always wonder what you would do in the same situation,” said Student Life news editor Laura Geggel. This especially raises the question, since the reporter who did the interview is also a Wash U student. Susannah Cahalan is a senior, an English major and former reporter for the Student Life paper. Some of her articles there include "The Official Guide to Faking an Orgasm" and "Fun in the Dorms, Sex Toys." She's now freelancing for the New York Post, which she apparently never mentioned to Michael Devlin. His lawyers are furious. "Anytime you have unauthorized, unrestricted access to a jailing facility you've got problems,” said attorney Ethan Corlija. Franklin County Sheriff Gary Toelke disagrees. "He was shown this person, and he was asked if he wanted to conduct a visit, he agreed to that.” The sheriff said the interview was Devlin's choice. He said this is not the first time he's encountered ethical issues with reporters. "There were media that offered to buy information from searchers. We had people sneak up into our crime scene area,” said Toelke. And this presents another problem, according to Dr. Mike Murray, the chairperson of the Media Studies Program at the University of Missouri St. Louis. "Unfortunately, if this kind of thing happens over and over again, people lose faith in the press. They lose faith in the reporting process. Then it's sort of all bets are off. People refuse to deal with the press,” said Murray. Devlin remains behind bars, facing charges for the kidnapping of both Ben Ownby and Shawn Hornbeck. It is a story that will likely remain in the news and one that Kliff said she will continue to follow closely. "I'd like to be a successful journalist but not if that means deceiving people or if that means doing things that I consider unethical,” said Kliff. On Monday, Devlin's attorneys filed several motions. They want Devlin moved to another jail, they want the court to suppress statements he made to Cahalan and they want a gag order on her to keep her from talking about the interview. Incidentally, Cahalan did not return our calls for comment.

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