Wednesday, September 03, 2008

St. Paul Mayor and Media Mum on Journalism Crackdown

In St. Paul this week, a new generation of media makers is under assault by the city's mayor and law enforcement officers.

These local officials think freedom of the press extends only to their allies in mainstream media.

For the rest of us, practicing journalism is a crime.

While reports of brutal police arrests and home invasions are still coming in, by Tuesday night the picture became clear. Dozens of journalists, photographers, bloggers and videomakers had been arrested in an orchestrated round up of independents covering the Republican National Convention.

Targeting the New Press

The list of those detained ranges from the well-known (Democracy Now's Amy Goodman) and well-established (Associated Press photographer Matt Rourke) -- to the bootstrapping bloggers and video makers who are covering local protests for, Twin Cities Indymedia, I-Witness and other outlets.

Police -- with firearms drawn -- raided a meeting of the video journalists and arrested independent media, bloggers and videomakers. Journalists covering protests have been pointed out by authorities, blasted with tear gas and pepper spray, and brutalized while in custody.

St Paul PoliceDemocracy Now's Goodman reports that a U.S. Secret Service agent ripped her press credentials from her neck the moment she identified herself to him as a member of the media. Her producers emerged yesterday from their jail cells bloodied and scarred, reporting unusually harsh treatment at the hands of local and federal authorities.

Mayor Coleman's Silence

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman hasn't responded to repeated phone and e-mail requests for comments on the targeting of journalists. Instead he praised the work of Police Chief John Harrington and painted those arrested as a small band of outsiders and vandals intent upon committing felonies against the good people of his city.

In less than a day, more than 35,000 people have signed a letter from Free Press (my employer) to Mayor Coleman condemning the arrests and demanding that he and local prosecutors immediately "free all detained journalists and drop all charges against them."

But when's Glenn Greenwald pressed Harrington and Coleman to respond to widespread reports of journalist arrests, Harrington claimed ignorance while Coleman stood silent at his side.

Police spokesman Don Walsh intervened only to say that "arrest have been made" and that all those arrested were involved in criminal activities and not "simply non-participants."

Strib Forgets About Free Speech

In a bizarre editorial on Tuesday, the Minneapolis St. Paul Star Tribune hailed the police crackdown as "appropriate," blaming unrest on outsiders from beyond the Twin Cities.

"Many of those arrested in St. Paul weren't carrying IDs or wouldn't give their names. Those who were identified came from Lexington, Ky.; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Portland, Ore., and dozens of other U.S. cities," they wrote. "These weren't the sons and daughters of Highland Park and south Minneapolis."

The Star Tribune itself is owned by out-of-towners from Avista Capital Partners, a New York City private equity firm specializing in energy, healthcare and media investments.

Other than a brief story about Goodman's arrest, the paper has failed to report on the apparent targeting of independent reporters, even though groups like the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists have sounded the alarm.

Sweeping Real Journalism Under the Carpet

Here we have every indication of an orchestrated assault by federal and local law enforcement agencies to stifle independent sources of information. As shocking as this conduct is, more disturbing is the fact that the mayor's office and the local daily seem so unconcerned.

It's not difficult to understand why. With local leaders making every effort to roll out the welcome mat for mainstream media and the GOP, they'd rather sweep beneath the carpet those pesky independents who are showing us a side of the spectacle that is less scripted for prime time.

As an elected representative, Mayor Coleman should take a stand on behalf of a free press, rein in aggressive and violent tactics by local law enforcement, stop the targeting of journalists and immediately drop all charges against them.

As a powerful news organization, the Star Tribune should know better, and should be sticking up for a free press, regardless of the form it takes.

For now, the democratic spirit of journalism is alive not in the Star Tribune newsroom, but among the video-blogs and cellphone reports that are bubbling up from outside the convention.

1 comment:

Floyd C. Wilkes said...

I suppose by now everyone has noticed the extraordinary degree of correspondence between the police tactics employed against unembedded journalists in the Twin Cities and the tactics used by our military to suppress and eliminate undesirable and unwelcome attention and perspectives in Iraq and elsewhere? How many journalist have been killed in Iraq? How many arrested and detained indefinitely without charge? I suppose the good news in St. Paul is the police are charging them with conspiracy to riot (or some other politically motivated, knock-kneed charge like that).

Thoroughly vetted, properly credentialed journalists were violently arrested and brutalized by “peace” officers exhibiting, in act and word, complete disregard and absolute disdain for the value and function of a free and independent news media (and the Constitution). Fox News, on the other hand, embedded with the police unit, was unmolested. Now that is America the beautiful. Let freedom ring!

I suppose this is the undertone, resounding loud and clear, in the message the “law enforcement” agents of St. Paul are sending: be grateful we did not use deadly force. Or perhaps the message is: only an anarchist brings a video camera to taser fight! I’ll bet if you could get close to those cops you would hear them chuckling at lines like: what kind of idiot fights batons, rubber-bullets, pepper-spray and flash-bang grenades with a microphone? I’m sure St. Paul himself is looking down from heaven, practicing his karate kicks and baton blows, wishing he could be out there in attack formation, with one of those frickin kick-ass riot gear suits helping to bust the heads of those evil-intentioned, unpatriotic protesters trying to stop the war and restore our civil liberties! Oh, Minnesota you give us so much to be proud of! Thanks for showing the world first hand the freedoms we enjoy in our democracy and what free speech is really all about, because, in truth, the world is watching (on Youtube).