For the past couple of weeks, we had heard rumors that state Rep. Brandon Hixon, R-Caldwell, had been under criminal investigation. Idaho Press-Tribune reporter Emily Lowe doggedly worked her sources trying to confirm the rumor, without even knowing what jurisdiction it was in — or even if it was true.
On Friday, Oct. 13, she received confirmation from the Caldwell Police Department that Hixon was under investigation, but there were no charges and there was no confirmation what the charges would be.
We continued to contact sources and reached out to Hixon directly, but we decided not to publish anything.
We knew other media outlets were working on the story, but we felt it was important to be responsible in what we published — and not published.
We felt that anyone could be under investigation simply by virtue of being accused of something. Now, it’s entirely possible that charges against Hixon will indeed be brought forward, but as it stood at the time, simply being under investigation wasn’t enough for us to publish a story.
We often write stories about people who have been arrested and charged with a crime, but we seldom, if ever, write something about someone who is under criminal investigation who hasn’t been formally charged or arrested yet.
On Wednesday afternoon, we received an email from Hixon’s lawyer confirming that Hixon was, indeed, under criminal investigation. Still, we held off publishing anything. What if, for example, it turned out that someone who simply didn’t like Hixon falsely accused him of a crime? Police would still be obligated to investigate the allegations, and thus, Hixon technically would be “under investigation.” At the time, though, it was simply unclear whether the investigation was legitimate and would lead to charges.
By Wednesday afternoon, though, some media outlets began publishing stories and posting them on social media that Hixon was under criminal investigation. They had the same information we had and decided to publish it. Without knowing whether allegations were credible or whether charges were forthcoming, I felt that was irresponsible. If the allegations turn out to be unsubstantiated and no charges are filed, publishing a story that he’s under criminal investigation would still be damaging.
As a news organization, we were “beat” to the story. We had a serious discussion at the time, as others were tweeting and posting to Facebook their stories, whether we should go ahead and do the same thing, providing the same information that we had as what the other media outlets were posting. Even then, with the story “out there,” we still felt it was premature, even if everyone else was reporting it.
On Thursday, we continued to contact sources and ask questions about the charges. And then, Hixon resigned. At that point, we felt it was germane and responsible to report not only Hixon’s resignation but the criminal investigation. Without explaining to readers that there was an ongoing criminal investigation, the circumstances of his resignation were murky, leading to even more speculation. In addition, his resignation raised the level of credibility that something was legitimately behind the criminal investigation.
The outcome of the criminal investigation, as of this writing, is still unknown. Even though we were “beat” to the story of the investigation, I still feel good that we showed restraint and didn’t rush to publish something without details prematurely.