Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
KRQE-TV investigative reporter Larry Barker is known for his confrontational style, but a tense exchange he had with the governor’s press secretary this week has many people outraged and the station apologizing for his behavior.
The incident occurred Wednesday at a cannabis conference at the Albuquerque Convention Center and was documented in a photo that was posted on social media. The image shows Barker confronting Nora Meyers Sackett, whose back is against a wall. The veteran television reporter is inches away from Sackett, wagging a finger in her masked face.
A television camera hoisted atop a cameraman’s shoulder – just behind Barker, who is maskless – captured the encounter.
Barker declined to comment Thursday evening, saying company policy prohibited him. However, station Vice President and General Manager Bill Anderson, after reviewing video of the interaction, said Friday, “we deeply regret what happened.” He offered his apologies to Sackett “and anyone who may have witnessed the incident.”
“I want to be very clear that regardless of the story he was pursuing, Larry’s conduct was completely inappropriate and inexcusable,” Anderson said. He added that Barker contacted Sackett by telephone to apologize “and she accepted it.”
The photo of the incident was posted on Twitter, on the website of the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and on other social media platforms, and it elicited comments from people who described the incident as inappropriate, unacceptable, unprofessional, terrible, bullying, intimidation, outrageous and gross.
The Rio Grande chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists condemned the incident, posting on its website that it is “appalled” by Barker’s conduct.
“No person, especially a journalist, should treat another human being the way Barker treated Sackett,” SPJ’s board of directors said in a statement.
“However frustrated, angry and just plain pissed off we get at each other, it is never, ever, ever – let us repeat – EVER even remotely acceptable to physically corner a source, no matter how important we think it may be.”
A number of other online comments also came from members of the media, including Albuquerque journalist Andy Lyman of NM Political Report, who witnessed the confrontation and confirmed Friday that he was the first person to post about it on social media.
Sackett later responded with some Twitter posts of her own: “The press and I don’t have to be best buddies all the time but I always respect them and their work, and them as people. (Wednesday) was a real low point in that relationship when I was physically accosted and practically assaulted by a KRQE reporter while doing my job at a public event.”
In an interview with the Journal, Sackett explained that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham was on a tight schedule going from one event to another during Wednesday’s New Mexico Cannabis Legalization Conference when Barker tried to speak with the governor about an issue unrelated to the conference.
“She was literally about to be introduced to give her speech,” and immediately afterward passed through a doorway into an adjacent room to attend another event. “He (Barker) wasn’t happy to hear that.”
That’s when the confrontation occurred.
Lyman confirmed that chronology. “It was an uncomfortable and awkward situation, and it made me feel really uncomfortable to see it go down like that,” he said.
Sackett called the incident upsetting and unprofessional.
“I completely understand that journalists want to talk to the governor. That’s my job, that’s what I’m here to do, to set that up, to facilitate that. But there is a process for it because the governor is a very busy person. She’s the executive of the state of New Mexico, and it doesn’t serve anyone, not journalists, not the public, for it to be a free for all.”
Barker, she said, “had me backed against a wall, with no mask and a finger in my face, and I could not move.”
And as a woman, she noted, “that’s very frightening.”
The governor was aware of the incident, Sackett said, but declined to elaborate.
KRQE’s Anderson said he spoke to Barker about the incident, although he declined to discuss any disciplinary action, calling it a personnel matter.
“KRQE and its corporate parent have well-defined policies related to employee conduct: We expect employees to demonstrate high standards of business conduct in their relationships, to be exemplary citizens in the communities in which they live and work, and to treat everyone with respect. Larry violated these policies, and we are addressing his actions directly with him.”