This Just In!

Here is where you will be able to locate and easily access all the NEWS BLOGS for Civil Liberty’s Call.  No OPINION BLOGS are located here.  A date archive database is located in the menu along with a site search box to assist you.

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This Just In! Did Capital Police Tell Reporters to Erase Pictures and Video?

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.

BKE

This Just In! Spicer Out, Huckabee Sanders In

Earlier today White House press secretary Sean Spicer announced he is exiting in his role after serving the Trump administration in that role since the inauguration in January of this year.  He will fulfill his position through August.  This ends what has been a rocky road as press secretary for Spicer, who began his time amidst disagreement over the estimated crowd size at the swearing in event.  His sparring with reporters has led to the briefings themselves becoming news instead of sources for them.

On 26 June 2017, in a truly historic event, Spicer went so far as to ban video cameras and then audio recordings, from the daily briefings.

While there have been attempts to capture at least portions of the briefings, they have been few in number and the press corps is for the most part following the White House dictum.  In a recent Washington Post online article, news and media reporter Callum Borchers revealed a two-part stream from a briefing by attendee Ksenija Pavlovic. (Read Borchers piece: A reporter broke White House rules).  As the one month mark of the ban arrives next week, along with the announcement of a new press secretary, many are wondering if the briefings will change direction.

Unfortunately, it looks like there will bee no change in the briefings.  As recently as yesterday, Sanders confused reporters during the 20 July 2017 briefing when she placed visual aids up on the monitors for her talk on Trump’s proposed MAGAnomics economic growth plan.  While the dichotomy of the White House creating and presenting images that they do not want recorded taxes the logic of most people, there are far deeper concerns over the continued banning of electronic broadcasting and recording equipment from use by the press corps.  They stem directly from the statements made by Trump for quite some time pitting himself against a (his words) “fake news” free press.

The U.S. Constitution specifically calls for a press that is allowed to operate unhindered by laws created by the government.  The Bill of Rights contains the 1st Amendment which states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

While it is true that the rule is a White House rule and not a law passed by Congress, the abridgement of the press is arguably still occurring.  This is added to a very selective process already being used by Trump and the White House to invite media outlets to events and special news opportunities.  The conservative outlets are getting the nod over liberal or centrist ones regularly now.  When the modern media (including print due to their online presence) depends heavily on the collection of both audio and video recordings, then any ban of that technology impairs or entirely impedes the ability of the free press to operate.

Business as usual

In a 20 July 2017 press briefing Sanders again barred the press from using the basic technology tools they need to report on White House actions.  It is amazing to think of a room of 21st century reporters with cameras and recorders off and phones sitting idle in their pockets, but it is the case.  The precedent has been set and thus far no one has challenged the White House on it to gain some form of reversal or injunction.  In fact, acceptance seems to have come from the acquiescence.

In a story by Rosie Gray in The Atlantic on 20 June 2017, the presence of an eerily glib Steve Bannon made itself felt.  When asked for a reason behind the ban, Gray reports that Bannon (Trump’s controversial advisor) replied “Sean [Spicer] got fatter.”  You can read the rest of the story by Gray here The White House Press Briefing Is Slowly Dying.  Bannon’s ties to Breitbart News have long caused people concern and his open racism even more.  Is this part of an overall plan to remove the White House from the media’s view entirely?  It is quite possible.

With a new White House press secretary, the media outlets might have had hope for some changes, but it is beginning to look like that is not the case.  There will be more to come on this story and a look at Sarah Huckabee Sanders next week.

BKE

COMING UP on next week’s CLC news pod cast:

  • Where in the World is Steve Bannon?

Trump’s illusive advisor was in the news prominently at first but has seemingly dropped below the radar…

This Just In! When Semantics Matter

Before the news blogs begin in earnest I would like to share a philosophy I follow in my research and writing of history and in journalism.  It took me a few years to actually develop my approach and I believe that now I can stand by it and defend it with vigor.  It cuts to the heart of many stories we hear in the news and is reflected in social media discussions constantly.  It is important because it truly reflects on the mindset of the speaker and the veracity of their claims.  It has to do with:  The Truth.

Most people, when they are hearing the news or listening to a person discuss an issue or most other important conversations, say they want to hear the truth…and most pride themselves on telling it.  There is a problem with this thinking, however, when I compare it to my model for communicating:  Truth is not what it seems.  At least it is not what we want it to be.  Truths stem from a philosophical root, and they are often steeped in more emotion combined with belief.  Fact, on the other hand, is not.  They are not, as we have often been led to believe, the same thing at all.

Here is one of my favorite examples to explain this difference.

At a four-way intersection a two car collision takes place.  On each of the four corners are witnesses. Who, being upstanding citizens, do not mind getting involved; they stay and wait for the police to arrive.  When the traffic officer arrives, he speaks to each witness separately and asks them what they saw leading up to and at the time of the accident.  Not surprisingly, none of the stories are the same.  Point of view (which corner) skill at recalling details, eyesight, when they looked, even past experiences driving or in an accident all play into the story they tell.  Not one of them has lied.  They have told the officer the truth…their truth.

In order to get a better picture of the actual facts the officer collects evidence, measures tire marks, looks for signs of alcohol, past driving records, the actual position and damage on the two cars.  He uses science, like historians use evidence from archaeology and archives, to put together a more accurate composite picture of what really happened—the facts.  While there were many truths, there is always only one set of facts.  True, we may find what we thought were facts were false and thus adjust our view, but the set of facts for each situation still remains at a constant:  1

As a military historian I have read and heard many stories from combat—opposite sides of the same lines even, and the truths are wholly believed by the participants.  But they may not mesh perfectly with the facts.  It is understandable; when you are in a stressful situation your memory is taxed, fight or flight usually impairs the process.  Crashing your car and having an airbag explode in your face can do it too.  In the end, like the officer on the stand in court, I have to present the best set of FACTS I have and not truths.  Truths are closer to opinions sometimes, but facts exist in their own exquisite domain.

From me, as a reporter, as a historian, you will know that what I am presenting is not my truth, or anyone else’s (unless I clearly indicate I am quoting them) but the facts, just the facts.

By the way, Detective Joe Friday?  He never uttered those words in a single episode…and that is a fact.

BKE