NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — The man who landed a gyrocopter on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol Wednesday had alerted the Tampa Bay Times in advance of his stunt, allowing the newspaper to have a reporter present to witness it.
The newspaper said it informed the Secret Service.
“This is one of the craziest stories I’ve ever done,” Tampa Bay Times reporter Ben Montgomery wrote on Twitter as the man took off. “I so hope nobody gets hurt.”
An hour later, Montgomery followed up, relieved: “He made it down safe. Arrested immediately. Witnessed moved way back. Can’t believe he made it.”
Montgomery interviewed the pilot, identified as a mailman named Doug Hughes, before the Wednesday afternoon flight.
Montgomery reported that the Secret Service visited Hughes at home last spring, as the Capitol Hill flight plan was beginning to take shape.
After the visit, Hughes “decided he wanted someone to tell his story in the event he was hurt or arrested,” so he “sought out a Tampa Bay Times reporter and explained his plan and motivation. He says he has no intention of hurting anybody and that he doesn’t want to be hurt either.”
Montgomery’s story was published minutes before social media began to murmur about the gyrocopter hovering over Washington. It was a protest flight, the story said, intended to raise attention about what he said was the need for campaign finance reform.
The newspaper didn’t just interview Hughes; it also recorded video of him hauling the gyrocopter into a van for the drive north to D.C.
Montgomery knew when to be in Washington for the flight. During the flight, the reporter live-tweeted what he saw.
His presence provoked ethical questions in newsrooms about what journalists should do when they have advance knowledge of a potential crime.
Similar questions have come up when journalists have shadowed people illegally crossing a border and engaging in drug use.
The newspaper may have been anticipating those questions when it said it “called the U.S. Secret Service in Washington D.C. to see if they were aware” of .[the pilot’s] plans. Public information officers there said they had not heard of the protest. They referred a reporter to Capitol Police. A public information officer did not immediately answer.”
The newspaper did not immediately respond to questions from CNNMoney on Wednesday afternoon.
Michael Shanahan, Hughes’ friend and co-worker, said he was “totally relieved” to see his friend land at the Capitol.
“I had told him time and again that they will shoot him down,” Shanahan said. “And the fact that they didn’t – I don’t know who made that decision — but I appreciate it very very much.”
When asked about the surge of media attention on Wednesday afternoon, Shanahan said, “That was the point.”
“It was an act, basically, of civil disobedience — he wanted to let people know about what campaign finance laws, or lack thereof, are doing to this country.”
The pilot put together a live stream of the flight to Washington that was broadcast on a website called “The Democracy Club” under the title “Live Flight.”
“Watching and waiting. Will he make it? #mailman,” Montgomery tweeted.