The Nation offers advice for reporters covering protests

Thanks to The Nation for this interview with First Amendment attorney Jonathan Peters. A total of 38 reporters have been arrested at Occupy protests across the country. While most have had their charges dropped, these actions have raised legitimate concerns about whether reporters are being granted their First Amendment rights.

As Peters notes, most of the arrests were for trespass or disorderly conduct. He goes on to say that the First Amendment doesn’t provide cover for breaking the law, and even with press credentials, reporters are required to comply with legitimate orders from the police.

The question for me – not just for reporters but for citizens – is what constitutes a “legitimate” order. Some of the video from Occupy marches in New York City show troubling situations where police officers were either issuing contradictory orders, or they were intentionally encouraging people to do things such as move onto a roadway, for which they were immediately arrested.

An issue not addressed in the interview is how courts view the rights accorded to journalists and to bloggers and citizen journalists which was raised by this blog earlier. As The Nation article confirms, there is a difference between having rights in theory and in practice. Even more ambiguous is whether reporters can expect to prevail in court if they try to sue for damages.


How should journalists deal with UC-Davis’ spin about the pepper spray attack?

A police officer pepper sprays non-violent student protesters

Call it the Rodney King conundrum. Citizen video goes viral showing police out of control. Anyone with a functioning pair of eyes immediately understands the horror of what they are witnessing.

Then cut to the “official” pronouncements and the resulting media coverage, which ask you to ignore your lying eyes.

There was a time when we applauded a watchdog press that stood up for the little guy. But now instead we have a generation of news consumers who think reporters are “biased” if they use terms like “police brutality” and “torture” instead of some PR flack’s sanitized version of events.

Below is the full statement issued by Linda P.B. Katehi, chancellor of the university:

This link takes you to the L.A. Times’ article that offers nothing beyond some quotes from the chancellor’s press release issued today, though it does provide video of the police attack.

The story did not make the home pages of the New York Times or Washington Post but both sites ran a version of the Associated Press article (click here for Washpo and here for the NYT version).

The AP account summarizes the chancellor’s statement in a way that makes her look more sympathetic than the full press release does. The only other quotes come from Annette Spicuzza, the police chief at UC-Davis. The Sacramento Bee is credited with capturing her lame explanation that the pepper spray attack was justified because her officers felt so threatened.

“There was no way out of that circle. They were cutting the officers off from their support. It’s a very volatile situation.” – Chief Spicuzza

Really? If those burly officers clad in riot gear and armed with batons and pepper spray were intimidated by some friendly college students, why should anyone trust them to defend citizens against rapists and murderers?

The bottom line, of course, is that the students who are left out of these articles are the ones who are paying the tuition that is used to pay for the police chief and the brutal officer wielding the can of pepper spray, as well as the mealymouthed chancellor. A task force report in 90 days? That’s it?

I suppose in this era when PR spin is portrayed as an example “civility” and “polite discourse,” we should be happy that Ms. Katehi (or her PR flack) at least used the words “chilling” and “sadness.”

Holding journalists to an outmoded standard of “objectivity” is dangerous in an era when out-of-control police nationwide conducted violent crackdowns among peaceful protesters. The mainstream media will end up looking like part of the problem and not the solution until or unless they can find a way to be more than stenographers waiting for “officials” to issue more unmitigated bs for them to pass along without analysis or comment.

Radicalizing reporters one by one

OWS protesters before the police struck

The conservative website Daily Caller reports that two of its journalists were attacked by police during the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City on the movement’s second anniversary.

DC reporter Michelle Fields and videographer Direna Cousins are quoted as saying that the protesters were being beaten with batons by police, as were the two reporters and journalists from other news organizations. Both Fields and Cousins said they were struck, but neither required medical treatment. Fields also noted that protesters quickly came to their aid:

The protesters came up to me right away and asked if I needed any medical assistance. They were actually very kind and helpful. It was the police officers who were very aggressive.

If a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged. And a liberal is a conservative who has spent time in prison. Then what, pray tell, are two conservative journalists who have been beaten by police while doing nothing wrong? Still Tea Party followers?

Journalists denied access to Zuccotti Park raid

It seems appropriate to launch Occupy Journalism on this day after the New York Police Department conducted an overnight raid to remove the Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccotti Park.

Firedoglake reports that police prevented journalists from seeing what was happening. (The use of pepper spray and batons makes the city look bad.) A Mother Jones reporter was able to sneak in and see the action before being dragged away. FDL reports that at least five reporters were arrested. A Village Voice reporter told officers she was a journalist, to which one reportedly replied, “Not tonight.”

Predictably, Fox News’ Fox and Friends ran the tagline “Good Riddance.”

The New York Times, also predictably, spent most of the article regurgitating Mayor Bloomberg’s rationale that the police action was taken for health and safety reasons, and that people should be reassured that “New York City is the city where you can come and express yourself.” Which leads me to suggest that there is a bridge in Brooklyn you might like to buy while you’re at it.

If burning a flag is protected under the First Amendment as symbolic political speech, then pitching a tent to protest Wall Street’s looting of the economy certainly qualifies.

On the Al-Jazeera English site, blogger Danny Schechter notes you can’t evict an idea.

The Guardian had the good taste not to quote Mayor Bloomberg’s nonsensical propaganda, but instead noted that New York City councilman Ydanis Rodríguez was among the roughly 200 people arrested during the overnight raid.