A Freelancer’s Ethical Problem

A private investigator hired a freelance writer to dig into the background of two FDA officials.  The firm, Kroll, was hired by drug maker Amphastar Pharmaceuticals that was frustrated that its generic drug wasn’t getting approval fast enough. 

At one point, the investigators hired a freelance reporter to file Freedom of Information Act requests, using her status as a journalist to request Woodcock’s emails, phone records, voicemails, calendar and expense reports, among other documents – without mentioning that she was being paid for her efforts by a private investigative firm.

“I am making this request as a journalist and this information is of timely value,” Melanie Haiken, a San Francisco-based freelance reporter wrote to the FDA. “As a journalist, I am primarily engaged in disseminating information.”

Haiken did not disclose that she was working for the private investigators at the time. In an email explaining its fees, Kroll told Amphastar that the expenses related to the FOIC covered “the cost of the person we are using to make the requests untraceable to you, the client.”

…Haiken, the freelance journalist, confirms that she filed the FOIA on behalf of Kroll. But Haiken said her intent was journalistic, and that she hoped the FOIAs would yield an interesting story. “I’m not really an investigator, I’m a health writer,” she said. “I have a right to get a story tip from somebody, even if it’s somebody at Kroll.”

This is a horrible breach of ethics for a reporter—freelance or not.