Cantrell campaign manager questions journalistic ethics of Zurik investigation

Updated: Nov. 11, 2022 at 4:10 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The Society for Professional Journalists says a Lee Zurik investigation into New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell and one of her security officers is “entirely appropriate and journalistically ethical.”

The determination came after Mayor Cantrell’s campaign manager asked the SPJ if the investigation of the “mayor’s apartment” was journalistically sound.

The report, which documented the time the mayor and New Orleans police officer Jeffrey Vappie spent at the city-owned Upper Pontalba apartment, prompted Cantrell campaign manager Maggie Carol to reach out to the SPJ on Wednesday before the story aired.

Carol’s letter stated “I would appreciate advice on journalistic ethics. This evening, a media source will be featuring a story that came about using surveillance and what seems to be unethical journalism standards. This apartment is literally the “mayor’s apartment” although it is not her residence. The purpose of this email is to request your input on how ethical it is to surveil and follow a public official in this particular context. If you are able to opine it would be greatly appreciated.”

The next day, Sergy Odiduro, the president of the Louisiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, responded by saying; “We have deemed Lee Zurik’s investigation into the activities of a public official, within a taxpayer-funded residence, during designated working hours, as entirely appropriate and journalistically ethical. The surveillance you question did not show anything that any person walking in front of the Pontalba apartments could not see.”

Surveillance images show NOPD officer Jeffrey Vappie and Mayor Cantrell visiting a city-owned...
Surveillance images show NOPD officer Jeffrey Vappie and Mayor Cantrell visiting a city-owned apartment, often during the work day(French Market Corporation)

“We found it was fair and balanced and raised a lot of legitimate questions about what was going on during the workday and all these things were highlighted in the investigation,” Odiduro told FOX 8.

“No there is nothing unethical about using the video from those cameras that anybody could’ve used for documenting timesheets,” Al Thompkins with the Poynter Institute says. “There’s nothing unethical about that at all.”


Calls for broader investigations into NOPD officer spending time with Mayor Cantrell outside the office

‘So disrespectful’: Former New Orleans police chief blasts Cantrell’s support of NOPD investigation into Vappie, calls for independent probe

Council members call for federal monitors to investigate Cantrell’s possible conflicts of interest

NOPD investigating officer frequently inside Cantrell’s city-owned apartment

Fox 8 documented Mayor Cantrell’s activities as well as the activities of Officer Vappie after reviewing 45 days of video obtained from a public camera in front of the apartment.

Just before the story aired, Vappie was reassigned and the NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau launched an internal investigation into whether the officer logged more than 16 hours and 35 minutes of work in any 24-hour period. Fox 8 found 12 such instances.

Mayor Cantrell says she stands by Officer Vappie and the PIB investigation.

Council members say the PIB investigation is not enough, and have asked the federal judge overseeing the NOPD’s consent decree reforms to launch a separate investigation.

Former New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas echoed the council’s sentiments.

“If the mayor has a shred of decency, if she has a shred of respect for the men and women of the NOPD, she would be asking someone other than the NOPD to do this. It’s a conflict of interest because the mayor has already said publicly how much she believes in the officer. Doesn’t it sound like it’s being pre-judged?” said Serpas. “It’s so unfair to Vappie. It’s so disrespectful to the NOPD PIB, and again, if there’s any shred of decency left in this mayor, you have to let somebody else investigate that so Vappie’s name can be cleared, if it’s to be cleared.”

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