A CMPD Tweet That Caused Its Own, Less Explosive Confrontation
Media-public affairs dustup was a relatively minor affair on a night with major news—but it reflects serious issues
In the middle of an exceptionally tense night in an exceptionally tense week, a prominent local television anchor and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s lead spokesman got into a Twitter spat. Morgan Fogarty of WCCB, piggybacking on an exchange among her, another TV reporter, and CMPD’s official account, objected to what the reporters saw as the CMPD Public Affairs Office’s limitations on access to frontline officers. “Let’s see a pattern of access and transparency, not one-offs here and there,” Fogarty tweeted, followed by another three minutes later: “Add: When it suits for PR”.
The department spokesman, Rob Tufano—a former New York City police officer who’s worked at CMPD since 2009—shot back five minutes later on the department’s official Twitter account, @CMPD: “Get right on it @MorganFogarty after our officers are through keeping your community and colleagues safe.”
The attitude didn’t go over especially well.
“How about you get it right,” replied Lesa Kastanas, a restaurant owner and community leader in Plaza Midwood. “Your social media Director is ineffective and incompetent @CMPD.” An even stronger response came from N.C. Senator Jeff Jackson of Charlotte, who wrote, “I need the person who runs this Twitter account for @CMPD to DM me immediately.”
At about the same time, CMPD officers were engaged in an apparent “kettling” and tear-gassing of a group of protesters near East Fourth and South College streets uptown. The alt-weekly Queen City Nerve captured the confrontation on video, which has led to a State Bureau of Investigation probe and, on Wednesday, a contentious “listening session” between city officials and residents outside the Government Center.
Compared to the consequences of officers’ actions during the protest, and the continuing demonstrations that have followed George Floyd’s death at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, a Twitter dustup between a media member and a police PR representative is a minor issue. But public affairs is exactly that, and it’s not the same for a law enforcement agency as for a department store brand or tech startup. Over the past week, reporters around the country have documented unusually aggressive, even confrontational, police behavior toward members of the media, and messages from law enforcement agencies matter especially during public demonstrations, when they can immediately inform interactions between officers and the public in the streets. Everyone has a smartphone these days, and they’re checking Twitter for the latest.
I reached out to the CMPD Public Affairs Office Thursday with that in mind and, not knowing at the time whether Tufano or another member of the office had sent the tweet, to ask if the person would be disciplined.
Tufano called me and said, clearly: No.
“That was me, absolutely,” he told me. “There’s nothing to discipline. We stand by every syllable … We are proud, damn proud, of the responses we’ve made to the media. We just find it a little rich that (Fogarty) would suggest we’re inaccessible given all that we’ve done. We’ve moved mountains.”
Fogarty told me by phone Thursday afternoon that she didn’t know it was Tufano who’d sent the tweet on CMPD’s behalf, but she’d guessed. “That doesn’t surprise me, just knowing Rob,” she told me. “Anyone who knows him or has worked with him knows he’s not a man to mince words.” She said she and Tufano had spoken since Tuesday—she’s accepted his offer to appear as a guest on the next episode of the CMPD Podcast—and chalks the episode up to “the high emotions right now running throughout the country,” she told me, adding that she and Tufano have a good professional relationship. “Relations between reporters and the police should not be cozy, quite frankly.”
As for Jackson, both he and Tufano confirmed Thursday that they haven’t communicated since Tuesday. Via email, Jackson told me he sent this to the CMPD account in a direct message: “As someone who relies on your Twitter account for information on a regular basis, your engagement with Ms. Fogarty was a serious problem. I don’t want to escalate it from here, but if we don’t fix this then your Twitter account is going to become a news story that will reflect poorly on CMPD and will distract from your mission.”
Jackson added, to me: “I encouraged him to delete the tweet. I received no response.” It remains active.