September 7, 2008

What happened in St. Paul?

Watching helmeted police officers wield batons outside the Republican National Convention in St. Paul was a little disconcerting. Nonetheless, knowing that there would likely be thousands of demonstrators ranging from curious idealists to seasoned agitators, it’s not surprising that local authorities wanted to make sure that the demonstrations didn’t get out of hand.

In retrospect, it appears they did a pretty good job, despite the severe criticisms leveled by advocacy journalist Amy Goodman and a handful of others, including Free Press Executive Director Josh Silver. Goodman and two of her colleagues at Democracy Now! were among the reporters covering demonstrations in the streets of St. Paul when they were hauled off with demonstrators during an altercation. They were given citations and then released. They've not yet been charged with anything.

Journalists should be free to practice their craft. They shouldn’t be harassed. But despite their press credentials, they shouldn’t be treated any differently than the rest of us. If they choose to imbed themselves in a crowd of demonstrators, they must know they run the risk of being caught in a mess, if a disturbance occurs. If police tell demonstrators – or journalists – not to cross a line, it’s prudent to heed their directive. Apparently, Democracy Now! anchor Amy Goodman felt she should be given celebrity treatment.

Almost immediately, Free Press mobilized an e-mail campaign, asking tens of thousands of people to sign a petition demanding that all charges against all journalists be dropped. They delivered that blanket petition to St. Paul City Attorney John Choi. It was during a classic television ambush of Choi that the overblown egos of a few attending journalists were revealed.

Dennis Moynihan of Free Speech TV unabashedly asked Choi, “couldn't you, with your power, waive or dismiss those charges right here on the spot with all these cameras here? Don’t you have the power…in recognition of the 50,000 people who’ve seen the arrest video?

Choi didn’t miss a heartbeat in responding.

Sure, I have the power, but let me tell you why that would be the wrong decision. When you make decisions about prosecution and justice, you shouldn’t do it because a lot of people have cameras in your face and want you to make a decision on a whim. In my opinion, justice requires that we review the cases carefully and seriously, and then make the right decision.”

Amen. And good for John Choi for standing up to the intimidating media folks who invaded his office. We trust, however, that there will be a serious investigation into exactly what did happen in the streets of St. Paul, and to what degree -- if any -- police might have overstepped their authority. That would be an even finer moment for Mr. Choi.

I admire some of Amy Goodman's work. And freepress does a good job in battling media consolidation. We applaud them for those efforts. But better they continue that fight than whimsically interceding on behalf of advocacy journalists who care less about objectivity than creating headlines.


Anonymous said...

FYI - The Saint Paul City Attorney declined to prosecute Amy Goodman.

Larry Miller said...

I would have been very surprised and disappointed had Amy Goodman been prosecuted. It's also good to note that St. Paul officials noted that just because journalists were not prosecuted, doesnt' mean they were wrongfully arrested. I think City Prosecutor John Choi got it right when he suggested that each citation needed to be dealt with separately.

At the end of the day, I believe we saw a healthy challenge between giving journalists ample latitude to do their jobs and expecting local law enforcement officials to keep the peace. Radicals on either side may yell “foul,” but they’re the folks about whom we should exercise greater concern. I would argue that justice was done.