Journalism under siege in Minnesota

Note: This post was originally published in the daily newsletter for the Columbia Journalism Review, where I’m the chief digital writer

As protests continued over a police officer accused of killing Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in Minnesota, journalists have been subjected to numerous instances of mistreatment by Minnesota state police. Joshua Rashaad McFadden, a Black freelance photographer who was covering the protests for the New York Timestold the paper that the police surrounded the car he was in on Tuesday as he tried to leave the protests. “It was definitely scary — I’ve never been in a situation like that with so many police officers hitting me, hitting my equipment,” he said, adding that police did not believe his press credentials were real. Carolyn Sung, an Asian American CNN producer, was seized by police, despite identifying herself as a journalist, and was zip-tied while a state police officer yelled “Do you speak English?” Sung was then then taken to a nearby jail, where she was subject to an invasive search and forced to wait in a cell for several hours before finally being released. Still other journalists have been pepper-sprayed despite identifying themselves, or had their credentials taken.

Many of these incidents — including one in which journalists were forcibly stopped and made to lay on the ground, before having their identification photographed, and in some cases being detained for several hours — occurred after a district court judge issued a temporary restraining order on Friday barring police from harassing journalists, to include threatening arrest and seizing camera or recording equipment. In one incident, a state police officer grabbed a photojournalist, pulled him out of a line, and took away his phone while another officer held his arms behind his back. When the photojournalist asked why he was doing this, the officer reportedly said, “Because that’s our strategy right now.” 

On Saturday, Leita Walker, a lawyer representing more than 20 news media organizations — including the Associated Press, BuzzFeed, Minnesota Public Radio, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the Committee to Protect Journalists — sent a letter to the governor of Minnesota and the heads of the state’s law enforcement organizations asking for them to put a stop to the harassment and abuse, citing the restraining order passed a day earlier. In her letter, Walker noted that several of the incidents she refers to took place Friday night, after the restraining order was already in effect. “Law enforcement officers have engaged in widespread intimidation, violence, and other misconduct directed at journalists that have interfered with their ability to report on matters of intense public interest and concern,” she wrote. Walker also pointed out that having law enforcement officers collect the identifying information of journalists who are engaged in journalism was found to be a First Amendment violation in a recent federal district court case. Minnesota State Patrol said in a statement that “troopers checked and photographed journalists and their credentials and driver’s licenses at the scene in order to expedite the identification process.” While some journalists were “detained and released during enforcement actions after providing credentials, no journalists have been arrested,” the police statement said.

When asked about the incidents during an interview on Sunday, Governor Tim Walz said that he was shocked by the allegations, and that “apologies are not enough; it just cannot happen.” In a tweet, Walz wrote that he had “directed our law enforcement partners to make changes that will help ensure journalists do not face barriers to doing their jobs”; in a TV interview, he said, “These are volatile situations and that’s not an excuse. It’s an understanding that we need to continue to get better.” Whether or not that understanding is shared is another matter: What has been happening in Minnesota is more evidence that where there are protests against police killings of Black men, there is also likely to be harassment and physical violence directed against journalists by those same police forces. As Cierra Hinton of Scalawag noted on Twitter, this doesn’t mean attacks against journalists are somehow more important or more objectionable than attacks on protesters. It’s also worth noting that even court orders specifically forbidding such behavior don’t seem to work.

Here’s more on unrest and journalism:

Brutal: Police allegedly trying to maintain order were “especially brutal toward journalists seeking to exercise their 1st Amendment rights and document what police were doing in our name,” according to Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch. “Even after a federal judge in Minnesota took the extraordinary step of issuing a temporary restraining order telling state troopers (but, weirdly, not local cops or the National Guard) to stop arresting or dispersing working reporters and photographers, officers in Brooklyn Center have been wilding against the media — epitomized by the pepper-spraying of a French journalist in a yellow “PRESS” vest and her heavily equipped photographer.”

Targeted: Law enforcement have long targeted journalists covering protests, as Jon Allsop pointed out for CJR in a report last year. In 2014, for example, at least eleven reporters were arrested while covering unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, while others faced threats and attacks. Often, as The Intercept founder Jeremy Scahill noted, reporters at such protests are “unfamous journalists from non-corporate outlets,” so their mistreatment goes unremarked upon by most of the mainstream press. Many of the journalists targeted during the protests over the killing of George Floyd last year reported that police attacked them even though they were prominently waving their press badges.

Not just journalists: Amanda Darrach wrote in CJR about how journalists need to look beyond what it happening to them as a group, and put it in context of a broader pattern of police violence against protesters, many of whom are Black. “The presumption is that we’re being targeted, because being targeted means we’re important,” she writes. “We must stop focusing on ourselves. The journalist breathlessly detailing their own victimhood has become a sub-genre of a story that is, and should be, about the killing of George Floyd. We are not worthier victims just because the fourth estate works to uphold democracy. It’s our job. And we’d do well to focus on those who don’t have the opportunity to write 800 words about their own importance afterward.”

Other notable stories:

Senior editors ignored numerous warnings from New York Times colleagues about Rukmini Callimachi’s work long before the making of the doomed podcast Caliphate, according to a report in Harper’s magazine. “Three Times journalists who cover the Middle East, who all asked to speak anonymously so as not to risk their jobs, told me that they and several of their colleagues had raised concerns with senior editors about Callimachi’s methods beginning with her first stories for the paper in 2014. They were ignored.”

Some of the people arrested during the Capitol riots on January 6 are claiming that because they filmed the riots, they should be considered journalists, the AP reports. One defendant, Shawn Witzemann, told authorities he was inside the Capitol during the riot as part of his work in livestreaming video at protests and has since argued that he was there as a journalist. “I seek truth. I speak to sources. I document. I provide commentary. It’s everything that a journalist is,” the plumber from Farmington, New Mexico said during a New Mexico television segment after his arrest on April 6. On its YouTube page, which has just over 300 subscribers, Witzemann’s show says it “delivers irreverent and thought provoking commentary and analysis, on an eclectic range of subjects.”

One America News has fired Marty Golingan, who worked for the channel as a producer since 2016. after he told the New York Times that staffers don’t think many of OAN’s stories are true. “The majority of people did not believe the voter fraud claims being run on the air,” he said He added: “I’ve given up my journalistic integrity already, and to be fired, that would make me feel good. I would wear it like a badge of honor.”

Channing Gerard Joseph, who teaches at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, writes in The Nation that American journalism has to acknowledge its role in promoting slavery and racism. “I found my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather on my mother’s side listed for sale in an old newspaper advertisement: “Stephen, 50, sawyer and sailor.” The announcement, headlined with the word “SLAVES” in bold capital letters, stated that he was to be auctioned off.” Although it’s rarely discussed, Joseph says that “a significant portion of America’s existing news business was built on slavery and other forms of racist terror.”

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, announced a suite of new audio products during an interview with independent journalist Casey Newton during an interview on Sidechannel, a Discord server started by Newton and several other journalists and newsletter writers, including Delia Cai and Charlie Warzel, who recently left the New York Times to start a Substack newsletter. Zuckerberg said the company will be launching a service that offers short audio clips, as well as a discovery tool for podcasts.

New York magazine interviews Jay Caspian Kang, E. Tammy Kim, and Andy B. Liu, the three co-hosts of the podcast Time to Say Goodbye. They began the show last April as an outlet for discussing the coronavirus outbreak within an international context, and, more broadly, and what it means to be Asian in America. (The name of the podcast comes from an Andrea Bocelli song which, according to the hosts, is stereotypically beloved by first-generation Asian immigrants.) Kim is a journalist and former lawyer who covers labor and immigration, Liu is a historian of modern China, and Kang, the most well-known of the three, is a writer-at-large for the New York Times Magazine

Victor Pickard, a professor of media policy and political economy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, writes in an essay for The Hill that local journalism should be considered infrastructure. “Local news serves our critical information needs, particularly regarding vital issues such as vaccines, elections and public safety,” he writes. “Infrastructures must be maintained regardless of their profitability and such glaring market failure should necessitate government intervention. Public goods, after all, require public investments.”

Huffpost has said its UK website is “here to stay” despite culling its news team, which has led to the departure of editor-in-chief Jess Brammar. Huffpost UK, under new owners Buzzfeed, will continue to cover UK politics, entertainment and lifestyle news with a team of about 22 people, it is understood. The publisher has not yet confirmed how many redundancies are being made as a consultation process remains ongoing until the end of the month. Press Gazette has reported that 16 of 29 full-time London-based news staff had been told their jobs were at risk, with four roles thought to be available for those 16.

There’s been a surge in media attention around NFTs, and a number of media organizations have tried to cash in, including the New York Times, which sold an NFT related to a Kevin Roose column (which was about NFTs) for $560,000. Time magazine has made almost $1.5 million by selling NFTs related to three of its classic magazine covers, such as the “Is God Dead?” cover. Other media forays into crypto have been less successful, however. The Atlantic sent out a press release earlier this month announcing the sale of its first-ever NFTs, but by the final day of the auction, the top bid for one of the NFTs was $500; for the other, just $33. The pieces never sold, an Atlantic spokesperson told me.

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