The fatal stabbings of four college students at the University of Idaho campus in Moscow, Idaho, in November 2022 were initially shrouded in mystery and misinformation.
As Boise, Idaho, Supervisory Correspondent Rebecca Boone worked to untangle all of this, a judge put up yet another barrier to getting the story to the public: a sweeping gag order prohibiting law enforcement agencies, attorneys or anyone else associated with the case from discussing it publicly.
While working long hours to cover one of the biggest stories in the nation unfolding six hours away, Boone suddenly had a new task on her plate: singlehandedly spearheading a legal challenge to the gag order — ultimately recruiting a coalition of 22 print and TV media outlets, including The New York Times, to join the cause.
Boone relied on her excellent relationships with Idaho's AP members to organize the coalition. She also leveraged her deep knowledge of Idaho's courts and extensive source network to suggest attorneys to the AP. She even helped negotiate the cost with AP members and the firm that was ultimately selected. The New York Times belatedly learned of the effort and asked to join on the very day the coalition went public.
The AP couldn't have had a better advocate for the task. Boone, who is a board member of the Idaho Press Club, has a track record of fighting for press access and has made the issue a top priority in her lengthy AP career. In 2012, for example, she led AP’s successful fight to increase access to state executions in a legal battle that went all the way to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Boone's tireless efforts to preserve media access and ensure transparency are another example of what she brings to the AP every day: tenacity, experience and a commitment to journalistic values increasingly under assault.
This case highlights why that transparency is so critical. The murder drew worldwide attention, particularly from people who styled themselves as sleuths on social media sites. In the weeks before the arrest of suspect Bryan Kohberger, some of those sleuths publicized their own theories about the slayings online. The theories often wrongly placed the blame on the victims’ surviving friends, relatives or others. News organizations’ interviews with investigators often helped quash some of those rumors and counter misinformation spread online. The judge’s gag order severely limited those efforts.
Boone's story about the gag order ran in countless newspapers and TV websites across Idaho; other members used the filing as fodder for stories about overly broad gag orders and threats to media access. It is too early to know the ultimate impact of the legal challenge, but her efforts sent an important message to this judge, as well as others in Idaho, about attempts to restrict press access, even in sensational cases where the rights of victims are also in play.
For quickly organizing a coalition of news outlets that launched a legal challenge to a sweeping gag order that infringes on the First Amendment rights of news organizations to keep the public informed about how the judicial branch operates, Rebecca Boone is this week’s Best of the Week — 1st Winner.