Sunday, October 16, 2016

Arrest Reporters?

     Even trouble-making reporters?  Even addled ones?  Alex Jones and company like to see how close they can come; on the other hand (at least if we're charting from the French), Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman likes to start trouble.

     Trouble she's got.  Covering a confrontation between protestors and pipeline workers/security, she managed to get herself arrested and charged with "trespass" and "riot."  Trespass proving too tricky to prove, she's left having to answer to participating in a riot.

     I don't find Ms. Goodman especially wonderful; there's likely nothing we agree on and she's a real hands-on advocacy journalist, with all that entails.  But ah, there's that word: "journalist."

     We've got this thing called the First Amendment.  It protects even people we don't much like.  Larry Flint, Alex Jones...Amy Goodman.  Not just NBC, Matt Drudge, HuffPo or Breitbart; not just your local newspaper (if any) or the news department of your local radio stations (likewise).  Nope, it all starts with edge cases.  People you don't like.  Viewpoints you abhor.

     The principle is, you don't jail reporters for being on the wrong side of an issue, or for being jerks, or for being inconvenient.  If they do actually break the law, the burden of proof is quite high.  On the other hand, being reporters, they often can show proof in form of notes, or audio or video recordings -- indeed, sharing what they gather is a huge part of their job.

     So we'll see how this one plays out.  The pipeline is a huge issue, especially for those closest to it.  Who wants to freeze in the dark?  Who wants to roll the dice on an oil spill into their only water source?  Who wants ten-dollar-a-gallon gasoline?  --Nobody.  And there's probably a better way to resolve it than by yelling, throwing things, using tear gas and dogs and breaking heads.  Or valves.  So far neither side has found anything better and without reporters shoving this under the national spotlight, there's not a lot of pressure on them to do so.  The big guys at CNNBCABCBS/WaPoNYLATimes weren't paying a lot of attention until she and her ilk took an interest; it's tangled enough that you can't cover much in a minute-thirty or two column-inches and getting compelling images has a poor risk/reward ratio for them.  So we need edge cases out there.  We need agenda-driven reporters because they're the only ones willing to make the drive out to the middle of damn nowhere and send back words and pictures.

     Arresting them is kinda not so very good.

     Come Monday, we'll find out what the courts in North Dakota think.  Stay tuned -- even if you have to dig for the results.

     (You don't need to tell me what a terrible, terrible person she is in comments.  Consider that stipulated.  That's not at issue here; in fact, it had darned well better not be at issue in court, either.)


Farm.Dad said...

IMO If its good enough to arrest Jimmy Redfeather or Cletus Klinger for then its good enough to arrest any " journalist " on the planet for . Neither the press nor government officials should have any special immunity from their actions.
However the Governmental actions or lack of same anytime some inner city Choir Boy gets well ventilated by the local PoPo and the hood goes rodeo shows that what should be isn't .

Randy GC said...

One question (for which I do not have a good answer) is when is being an "advocacy journalist" just a cover for "activist" trying to get protection from from the legal consequences of otherwise illegal acts?

I don't know where to draw the line, but I tend to lean with placing a very heavy burden of proof on the .gov, with the presumption of the "journalist" in question being protected until proven otherwise.

Anonymous said...

In my half century on this spinning bundle of rock I've had the opportunity to live and work in some interesting places. Places that in some cases generate lots of charged reporting.

The cases in point are both Israel and Northern Ireland during the latter end of the "troubles". In both cases I had any faith that I had left in journalism shattered by, quite literally, lies and fabrications.

Like "riots" consisting of 6 youths (should be thugs really) throwing stones, but photographed strategically to give drama to the image. And, incidentally to hide the fact the press photographers outnumber the stone throwers 2:1. Rumor ha it that incident was staged at the behest or the journalists for a few quid - shocker. I have many such anecdotes, a number of them quite personal, as in I saw it happen with my own eyes.

In my book, a journalist these days is little more that an agitator with a notebook, and deserves no special treatment, nor did they ever a separate class under the law.

The constitution guarantees freedom of the press. Last I looked that meant we won't shut you down for printing something we don't like. I don't see a free pass anyway for law-breaking by journalists.

Surprisingly perhaps, you can actually report the news without breaking the law.

Earl Harding

Roberta X said...

There is no evidence Goodman broke the law at present. "Participating in a riot?" Fine, show me the video. The local authorities are saying "All her coverage has been from the standpoint of justifying the actions of the protesters," but that's hardly the same as, say, throwing rocks at workers or trying to trash a bulldozer.

Political protest is protected speech. Fail to post your property, and it may not be trespassing to enter is uninvited. Seizing it and holding it? Unlikely to be protected. Pointing firearms at people who are not an imminent threat? Probably not protected.

Earl, all journalism is a lie. No matter what they do, that can't put you there as it happens, free to look around for yourself. And no matter how hard they try (or don't), reporters can't help but have an opinion. Some of it is bigger lies, worse lies, deliberate lies, but it's all a lie, if from nothing more than stripped content because the camera only sees so much -- and we only get to see what the reporter shows or tells us.

Old NFO said...

I'd have to agree with Randy. Where IS that line, but the .gov MUST actually prove it... Re the spills, take a look at the number of train accidents with spills vs. actual pipeline spills...

B P said...

The "line" is in actions taken that day, not occupation. Starting the analysis with "was she acting as a journalist?" requires first elevating the press above the common rabble. A random member of the protest electing to abstain from any activity other than documentation and reporting should be protected just the same as a full time journalist. No aristocracy. Her day job is not important, except insofar as it raises credibility to her claim that she was just reporting events. If she threw a rock at someone over a political disagreement, that's a crime. If she filmed such a rock being thrown, that is not. Advocacy journalist and activist are not mutually exclusive, nor do they merit different treatment. Rock thrower vs camera holder is a distinction worth criminal consequences.

Douglas2 said...

When she was first arrested, I had a look and found someone from Democracy-Now who had linked to photos of the original charging documents. It what was attested by witnesses in those documents was true, it was quite clear that she was trespassing, knew she was trespassing, and willfully disobeyed requests by those acting as security for the construction project to get back on publicly land.

That wasn't, by the way, how the events were described by those linking them. I've long thought that activists leaing towards that quadrant of the spectrum don't actually want or expect you to click through...

It seems, however, that some detail of the trespassing statute in question provides some sort of notice that wasn't given. So she gets off on a technicality. (Which is a good thing, we need to enforce the laws as written!)

Incidentally, I went looking for that charging document yesterday again in order to add to a discussion the thought that journalists are still subject to laws of general applicability, and it was gone gone gone.

So when I see this, I'm not especially predisposed to think that DemocacyNow is telling us the full story on the new charges, nor quoting the prosecutor in full.

They are telling me about the contents of a charge, without linking to the primary source. The prosecutor may not wish to put it up on the web, but the defendant has it and has every right to make it public. I already know that DemocracyNow (and the AP, and the sympathetic local reporters) have lied to me about the details of the case already, so I'm finding it expedient to assume that they are lying to me now, unless proven otherwise.

Roberta X said...

That's how personal opinions work. Its not how courts work and we should all be very happy about that.

The people saying, "reporters aren't special," well duh; except that reporters, as contrasted with J. Random Non-Protesting Individual, can be reasonably expected to be in or near newsworthy events, including protests, in the course of doing their job - and their job is a Constitutionally-protected activity. So is peaceful political protest while we're on the subject, so waving signs from the roadside would not be something you could be arrested for. There's a line. Was it crossed? If you're videoing a protest and the protesters cross a fence, are you obliged to remain behind? A lot of news photographers would say no.

If DN! is BSing, that will come out in court. It will be interesting to see want coverage there is to find.

Unknown said...

The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all. -H. L. Mencken