Alarmingly, we are seeing more and more posts about interference with the press, including photographers. UPDATED: "The Committee to Protect Journalists have released their report for 2011 which chronicles the attacks on journalists worldwide. They report that at least 43 journalists were killed including seven dead in Pakistan making it the deadliest country to work in as a journalist. Photojournalists suffered particularly heavy losses in 2011."
By Douglas Turner
Updated: December 19, 2011, 6:30 AM
Beyond serving our amusements, the work of press photographers and reporters is deadly serious. The crux of the matter is that press photographers and reporters are our last guarantors of freedom.
Think Danny Pearl, beheaded by al-Qaida in 2002; Don Bolles, murdered by the mob in Arizona in 1978; and Lara Logan, brutally assaulted while monitoring the behavior of a dictator’s police during Egypt’s Arab Spring.
Worldwide, 889 journalists have been killed since 1992, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Today, photographers and reporters are being manhandled again in this country by police. Not in the smoky backwoods of the Deep South, as in the 1960s, but in cradles of so-called liberalism like New York, Los Angeles, Oakland and Rochester.
These cities are among dozens where the cops are moving out Occupy Wall Street protest encampments, and the police plainly don’t want citizens to see how they’re doing it. Photographers and reporters, with chains of credentials hanging off their necks like the Lord Mayor of London, are being handcuffed, herded into pens, hustled into police wagons and sometimes into court.
The cops under New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg are operating with impunity. Consider the timeline of a Buffalo lawyer, Mickey H. Osterreicher, who is in the middle of this swirl. Osterreicher, a former newspaper and television photographer, is general counsel of the National Press Photographers Association.
Osterreicher helped arrange a meeting with Bloomberg’s police commissioner, Ray Kelly, in Manhattan just before Thanksgiving to get Kelly to restrain his troops, who were roughing up demonstrators and journalists while closing down an Occupy encampment. Among the attendees were representatives of Thomson-Reuters, Dow-Jones and the New York Times.
On Nov. 21, Kelly sent out a pious-sounding directive to all police reminding them of the journalists’ constitutional rights and directing that they be treated with respect. “The next day,” Osterreicher said, “a photographer for the New York Daily News was interfered with. And there were absurd incidents involving journalists trying to cover the Thanksgiving Day parade.”
Last week, according to AtlanticWire. com, Kelly’s cops shoved a New York Times photographer down a set of stairs, then blocked him from shooting an Occupy protest. So much for Kelly’s paperwork.
In Los Angeles, police arrested a credentialed City News Service reporter trying to cover the dismantling of an Occupy site. A video shows police taking him to the ground as he tried to show his credentials. Police later claimed he was drunk.
Among Osterreicher’s cases is his defense of a student journalist in Rochester who was arrested trying to cover an Occupy protest there. In what Osterreicher claims is a “terrific waste of public resources,” the Monroe County prosecutor refuses to drop trespassing charges against the man.
Osterreicher sees some of the police-versus-press tension as cyclical. The Occupy movement and police anxiety following 9/11, he adds, prompt more of it. There is also some public myopia involved.
“Photographers were killed in Syria and Egypt,” he said. “What is seen as heroic overseas is looked on as offensive here.”
Police harassment of demonstrators and journalists doesn’t seem to trouble the Obama administration much. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-Manhattan, wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder on Dec. 6 asking for an investigation into police mauling of Occupy demonstrators. Holder hasn’t bothered to answer Nadler, ranking Democrat on a Judiciary subcommittee.