As a news reporter I have a strict code of ethics that holds me to delivering to you the news facts without my thumb on the scale. In this I am relentless. There are, however, in our electronic day and age stories that do not manifest themselves in any sort of usual manner. Things happen quickly, too quickly for the “news trucks” to arrive; they happen behind security barriers and checkpoints that will take the media too long to get to and so things get missed. It does not mean that they do not necessarily happen; it is just that no major outlet is there to record them, yet there is hardly ever a time when no one at all is there without a recording device. It was not the case on 25 July 2017 at a health care bill protest in the Senate office building, there were reporters with recording devices—and pictures have surfaced of the events.
The problem stems from the fact that some people, journalists on the scene, were told by Capital Police to stop filming the arrests by them of protestors and to erase any footage they had taken. That the protestors would be arrested is not surprising as that is often the case when people gather as a group in a public building like this, not being noticed or being arrested may mean that they had failed in some regards. While the expectation would be that all law enforcement would do its job appropriately and professionally, history has not always shown this to be the case. While acceptable levels of force have changed considerably over the years, the bottom line in any protest/arrest situation is that it might escalate. Here is where the press can serve a function to both the protestor and the law enforcement agency. They can create a real time record of what happened from start to finish.
This is only the case if they are allowed to do their job. In the case of the health bill protest last week, it is not entirely clear who all the reporters on hand were, since they were not known celebrity or even network reporters. This makes confirmation of who saw what, and who said what, more ethereal than factual. This lack of in depth fact-based reporting leaves me reporting on what is ultimately a very disturbing claim by these reporters on the scene, without knowing the circumstances of their involvement. A story, that if factual, holds major import for ALL Americans as the alleged police actions violate the Constitution and the right of the citizens to know what is going on in the public buildings of their legislative body.
The 1st Amendment is clear in this and reporters had every right to film the events.
There is no argument that the protestors may (underscore may) have broken the law, perhaps purposefully in order to raise their cause into the awareness of the Senators, and the media. It is also equally as possible that the Capital Police also broke the law by telling reporters or journalists to erase their footage of the arrests. The problem I face in trying to find the facts is that many outlets reporting on this have a well understood bias in their own reporting. Many media outlets did not have anyone there at all, with the exception of the New York Post, whose Washington Bureau Chief Gabby Morrongiello was there, as was The Huffington Post’s Jennifer Bendery, both of whom Tweeted from the location. The others most mentioned were: photo journalist Alejandro Alvarez and Andrew Desiderio who claimed via Twitter the police made him delete his video.
While it is true that the same lie told fifteen times does not make it a fact, there is enough circumstantial evidence surrounding this event to warrant concern. It is compounded by the fact that some are reporting that Senate staffers were telling people they could not record. This is not a security risk area where reporters are always blacked out; it is an office building where protestors arrived en masse to make their voices heard. Reporters had an obligation to record and report on the events, and no one had a legal right to tell them otherwise. As long as they were not obstructing the police in their efforts, they were free to document.
What actually happened may remain something of an enigma. What can come from this is a raised awareness level of all Americans that the police in their nation’s capital may feel they can overstep the boundaries set by the U.S. Constitution—they may not. Vigilance is not the task of just the press or the watchdog groups…it is every single person’s right and responsibility to make sure the clear lines of the laws that ensure American liberties are not diffused by any authority or individual.
I will continue to follow this story and provide updates when they become available.