Last week’s announcement that St. Paul won’t prosecute journalists who were swept up in the Republican National Convention protests by police really hasn’t alleviated a lot of the hard feelings. On the one hand, police have said it’s too difficult to tell “credentialed” journalists from the “self credentialed” ones. On the other hand, it wasn’t that hard once they were detained. All the cops had to do was read the credential.
Tonight, the Society of Professional Journalists in Minnesota is holding a forum with several journalists who were arrested, as well as Asst. Police Chief Matt Bostrom of St. Paul and Deputy Mayor Ann Mulholland.
Al Tompkins from the Poytner Institute is moderating and says he wants these questions answered:
* What do the police want media to know about their mission in events like this.
* How can journalists cover important stories like this and not get arrested.
* Should be tiered credentialing for traditional and non-traditional media.
If you’re into drinking games, I suggest “Amy Goodman” as the keywords. I look forward to a good discussion with you in the comments section below.
Live-blogging at 7 p.m.
6:58 p.m. – Looks like about 100 people in attendance, at least one Minneapolis police officer in the audience. I suppose it’s a discussion for another day but if you ever want to see an example of the lack of diversity in the media, forums and journalist get-togethers are a good start.
7:04 p.m. – Nicole Garrison-Sprenger of the Pioneer Press opens with a nod to Rick Kupchella of KARE — the former SPJ president. “This has been an eye-opening experience… the whole RNC,” Kupchella says. “We seldom see ourselves on a stage like this and seldom see the friction we saw on the streets of St. Paul.” Introducing panel, and emphasizing that most journalists covering the RNC weren’t arrested.
Jonathan Malat, photographer for KARE, is also on the panel. He was arrested on final night of RNC. Says the KARE Web site:
“I never saw any excessive force other than it was just loud and chaotic,” said Malat about the tactics used to push people toward the bridge. Earlier police had given several orders for the crowd to disperse. “I was just there to cover the event,” explained Malat.
7:09 p.m. – Al Tompkins of Poynter Institute is moderating. “We not here for a witch hunt,” he says. “We can learn a lot if we listen to each other.” He tells Mulholland and Boston, “it took a lot of guts for you to be here.”
7:12 p.m. – Tompkins is playing various media Web site video of protests, including the breaking of the window at Macy’s on Monday of the RNC. Video from Fox 9 shows cop being knocked down and pepper-spraying the crowd.
7:16 p.m. – Jonathan Malat (KARE photographer) describes the Thursday protest near the Capitol. The protest was running late, he says. It didn’t get going until 4:30 and 15 minutes later the police said the permit expired at 5 p.m. “My goal was the same that day as every day: to document what was going on in the community.” He says he had no indication he would be arrested. (See Kupchella’s blog | Video )
7:21 p.m. – “What didn’t we see in the video?” Tompkins asks deputy police chief Matt Bostrom. “When there is an opportunity to march and people don’t take that — it was intentional that the marchers didn’t leave on time nor on the designated march route — … they made it clear early on that this would be the particular rally not to bring your kids too.” (I think he’s referring to this)
“No one from this group asked for an extension or a new route. We were prepared to grant permits on the fly,” he said. “They wanted to turn us against each other.”
7:25 p.m. Tompkins displays a quote from MinnPost from Bostrom (which he says “is close”) from last December in which he appeared to criticize Boston in 2004 for muzzling protest.
Bostrom says officers in St. Paul are trained to allow the media to do their job.
7:27 p.m. - This would be a good time at the forum for Tompkins to ask, “hey, what happened?” Instead, he’s laying a court-like foundation on what is freedom of the press.
Mulholland says Mayor Chris Coleman believes the officers did what they felt they needed to do to maintain public safety. “Should they be treated specially and different than anyone else in a public safety incident is what we need to talk about,” she says.
“There’s a special role to make sure media has access and the information they need. Having watched many hours of video, I am hard-pressed to think we didn’t give great access to the media during the course of the convention,” she said.
7:32 p.m. Tompkins shows op-ed piece in Pioneer Press from Mayor Chris Coleman, in which Coleman refers to his feeling while “watching news stories.” How would the mayor have felt that if it weren’t for the press, Tompkins asked. Gotcha.
Mulholland says there were 10,000 people exercising their right to have their voices heard, but were overwhelmed by a small group. Tompkins asked if her boss believes there was a legitimate reason for the journalists to be “there.”
“I believe it’s important for the journalists to be wherever people gather lawfully,” Mulholland says.
Bostrom says the video Coleman referred to wasn’t from journalists, it was from those spy cameras the city erected.
So here we are: Do journalists have a right to be in a place where a crime is being committed? “How close? And when does it impair public safety” Mulholland asks.
7:36 p.m. Mara Gottfried of the Pioneer Press is asked why she wasn’t arrested. She notes that she, too, was one of the “ride-along” journalists on Thursday. But she says she was able to watch the protest at which Amy Goodman’s producers were arrested without a problem. She also covered the Rage Against the Machine concert in Minneapolis. At one point she was blocked by police, and was joined by two PiPress reporters. The two reporters with her were ordered to the ground. They complied. When they told police they were reporters with the Pioneer Press, “they were released within a minute,” she said.
7:42 p.m. – How do you know who the “real” photographers are? Tompkins puts up a picture with different-looking people taking pictures (I’ve done this riff already). Deputy Mayor Mulholland: “I don’t know who the journalist is, so we treat everyone the same.”
7:44 p.m. The story of Evan Vucci, the head of AP’s Washington bureau is being discussed. He was “picked up and slammed to the ground” but when he showed his police credentials (White House, Secret Service), he was released. AP Minneapolis boss
“What kind of discretion does an officer have?’ Tompkins asked Bostrom. “If someone disobeys a lawful order, they shall be arrested,” he says. “But the officer… has discretion.”
“What would it take for a journalist to preserve such a thing,” Tompkins asked.
“If they were to release someone who was a criminal hiding behind a media credential, they have to be accountable for that,” he answers… sort of.
Pyle says an AP photographer who was arrested, may have been a victim of a suburban police officer. He also noted that the photo that the photographer — Matt Rourke — was used by St. Paul police in a public call to help find information about some criminal activity during the protest.
7:59 p.m. “A lawful order,” that’s the key phrase so far. First Amendment attorney Mark Anfinson says if police issue a “lawful order” to disperse, journalists have to disperse and “very much like a combat zone, journalists take on the risk… It’s hard to see where police violated rights.”
Malat points out that when they were told to disperse and he asked where they should go, police officers told him “the way out is the (Marion St.) bridge.” That’s where he was arrested.
7:55 p.m. We’re sort of flailing around issues here. Now we’re on “who’s a journalist?” again. Anfinson says journalists adhere to ethical codes of behavior, I don’t think you can bestow that upon people who just call themselves ‘journalists’ for convenience.”
7:57 p.m. Caroline Lowe from WCCO is up now. She’s both a journalist and a sworn police officer. She, too, says she and her team were given clear orders but many of the journalists were not given a “clear way out.” She says an officer called her the next day and said she thought she’d have to hit Lowe with her stick.
7:59 p.m. – Bostrom giving more details of the number of times protesters were warned they were engaging in “unlawful assembly.” He says they made two announcements, then walked around the people in the street and told them to sit down, they were under arrest.”
Another group then took a run at Marion Street and were turned back. They then blocked University. “No one was getting arrested for going east or west,” he said.
Malat disagrees. He says officers were advancing from both the east and west. Bostrom disagrees with his disagreement.
Bostrom reveals that guns were taken from some in the crowd.
“That’s a lie,” someone in the audience yells, before Caroline Lowe says she saw one.
8:06 p.m. Back to “who’s a journalist?” again. Chuck Olsen from The Uptake is talking about his live video via cellphone. He identifies himself as a “citizen journalist” and Tompkins asks him what that is. “Do you adhere to a code of ethics?” Tompkins asked.
I guess where we’re going here is: are The Uptake journalists journalists?
“Yeah,” Olsen said.
Mulholland doesn’t answer the question. “I would ask the journalists in the room,” she says.
Tompkins doesn’t let her off the hook. “Was the mayor talking about him when he talked about journalists?”
“I think the mayor was talking about people trying to tell a story,” she responds.
8:11 p.m. Tompkins is now playing a video from Pepperspray Productions, a group with an agenda, of course. Are they journalists?
“Is Fox News?” someone shoults.
Comment: Since the St. Paul cops have already mentioned that the reason so many journalists got swept up is because they couldn’t tell who was a “real” journalist and who wasn’t, it doesn’t make a lot of sense here to run Mulholland and Bostrom through some sort of rhetorical exercise designed to make the point that it’s hard to tell?
8:16 p.m. – Charlie Underwood jumps up from the audience. He asks Tompkins if he’s trying to establish a separate category for people who don’t get pepper sprayed. “If what the police did was wrong to you, it’s wrong” to everybody.”
8:18 p.m. – “All of us have a right to be on the street. I’m a member of an alternative media and I have a right and responsibility to communicate (the story),” Ed Felien from South Side Pride says. “Anyone who is vetted by the police department has given up a point of view.”
8:22 p.m. – About a half dozen people have jumped up to the audience microphones to speak. I presume they’re interesting in speaking to the allegation that if you get a press pass, you’re in the pocket of whomever gave it to you.
8:24 p.m. Jonathan says “police acted very responsibly, given the high intensity level. I put myself in this situation.” An audience member, who says she edits Twin Cities Daily Planet, says that treatment wasn’t extended to others. “This was largely the province of alternative media. If the alternative media are not out there covering it, can we be sure we’re going to get the coverage?”
8:27 p.m. Jason DeRusha of WCCO says “many of us came to a discussion on who gets to be to the ‘in’ crowd, while the alternative media attendees are advocating no special protections” for that same crowd. So do we journalists get special treatment?
It’s a good question which, for some reason, Tompkins chose not to pursue at this time to get more audience reaction.
8:32 p.m. – Audience member who says she used to be an FBI “person ” (Update: Jason DeRusha writes to say it was Coleen Rowley) says the independence of the reporter is at crossends of “this special status” you’re talking about here.
I’m starting to realize that mainstream journalists seem to be on one side of the room, alternative media on the other. I’m sitting way up in the back, on neither side, by the way.
8:35 p.m. – There doesn’t seem to be any argument in the room that if the police tell you “you have to get out of here,” then you have to get out of there. So why are we still messing with the ‘special attention’ thing?
8:37 p.m. - Dan Feidt of Politics in Minnesota asks about the Saturday raid on journalists on Iglehart Avenue. Bostrom refuses comment after saying “a judge signed the warrant.” He makes clear that this isn’t the discussion he came here for.
8:40 p.m. – Michael of St. Paul asks journalists why people feel such a need to go to alternative media? Makes a big pitch for alternative media. Oh, goodness, what are we doing on that question?
8:42 p.m. – Ron Eibensteiner, former GOP boss in Minnesota says “the St. Paul Police Department did an outstanding job. ” So noted. I’m suddenly wondering how that kid in Blaine is doing before the Anoka-Hennepin School Board that might get expelled for having a boxcutter for work in his car at school?
8:50 p.m. Brian Madigan, freelance reporter who says he was caught in “the scrum” on Thursday. He wasn’t able to get his material back from the police for several days and wonders why the KARE 11 cameraman was able to get his gear in time for the 10 p.m. news. “They were processing people from one end of the bridge to the other. I was in the middle,” Malat said. “When they were about to take me, (Ramsey County) Sheriff (Bob) Fletcher arrived on the scene and asked who were journalists. I raised my hand and a bunch of others raised their hands and there seemed to be a decision that if you had RNC credentials you were put aside from the others.”
“it’s the first time in my career that so many journalists were involved at the scene of a crime,” Bostrom said. “What would you have me do after 4 hours?”
“That’s the question of the night,” Tompkins says. These SPJ things always get going about 5 minutes before they end. Still, nobody takes Bostrom up on his question.
8:54 p.m. – Photo editor of the Minnesota Daily “testifies” he was treated well. So here’s where we are after two hours: “Mainstream journalists” seem pretty satisfied with the way things worked. “Alternative media journalists” are not.
8:56 p.m. – We’re back on the merits of embedded reporters. The Twin Cities Media Alliance says the embeds were selected by police (always disquieting to hear people identifying themselves as journalists speak publicly about facts without fully checking, but there you go.) “Why was the embedding program secret?” she asks. “We’ve seen the results of embedding in Iraq.”
Mara Gottfried says she was never told it was secret.
9:02 p.m. KFAI reporter goes off on corporate media. Says mainstream media is lazy and “that’s why independent media is happening.” Tom Lindner of KARE says he passed on “embedding” because “the rules were so cockamamie. You cover something on Monday, you couldn’t air it until Friday.” An embedded reporter says he was free to step out from the role at any time.
We’re done here. Very little accomplished but it was a good try. In his final comments, Bostrom said “I have zero interest in arresting someone that hasn’t done anything” and he seems disappointed — appropriately so — that he wanted some suggestions to take back. He didn’t get them and it wasn’t because he didn’t ask.
The continuing conflict between alternative and mainstream media is an intriguing and important discussion, but the effort to make the distinction forced the journalists to defend themselves to each other, when what they should have been doing is standing as journalists to the authorities and trying to recognize a solution to the changing medium landscape.