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 is a privilege that extends only to their closest allies in mainstream media.
For the rest of us, it's 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 TheUptake.org, 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.
Democracy 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 Salon.com'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 Partner, 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 leadership during a nationally televised convention, they'd rather sweep beneath the carpet those pesky independents who are showing us a side of the event that is less scripted and unready 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 what form it takes.
But this week, the democratic spirit of journalism can be witnessed not in the "Strib's" newsroom, but among the rough-hewn videos and blogs of those who are covering the convention from the ground up.