Tanzina Vega: This is The Takeaway I'm Tanzina Vega. As the uprising for racial justice continues across the country, journalists on the front lines are increasingly the targets of direct and hostile confrontations with law enforcement.
Male Speaker: Who are you essential to? Get back
Male Speaker: We've got plenty of time here.
Female Speaker: Are you okay?
Female Speaker: I'm getting shot, I'm getting--
Female Speaker: Katie, are you okay?
Female Speaker: We got stuck, myself and the photographer got stuck in a corner at a scale of brick wall and ran into a random building where I'm now taking shelter--
Male Speaker: I'm sorry?
Female Speaker: You're under arrest.
Male Speaker: Do you mind telling me why am I under arrest sir? Why am I under arrest sir?
Tanzina: Being hit with tear gas and rubber bullets as part of the job for journalists covering conflict but many of these incidents are drawing concerns from advocates about freedom of the press and about the strained relationships between media and the police. According to the Freedom of the Press Foundation and the committee to protect journalists from earlier this month, over 80% of assaults on journalists came from police officers at recent demonstrations.
Today, we're exploring how the relationship between police departments and the media got to this point. Joining me now is Simone Weichselbaum, national law enforcement reporter for the Marshall Project. Simone, welcome back to the show.
Simone Weichselbaum: Thanks for having me again.
Tanzina: Also with us is Jim Mulvaney, adjunct professor in the Law and Police Science Department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and former deputy managing editor at the New York Daily News, one of New York City's longest running tabloids. Jim, thanks for joining us.
Jim Mulvaney: Thank you for having me.
Tanzina: Jim, when you hear the interactions we described at the top of the show, what's your assessment about the tensions that are now existing between police and the press?
Jim: Well, we're in a very difficult time. This is much more like combat situations than it is like the old days of covering peaceful marches. The relationship between police and the press if look back in the '60s, everybody was trying to blind eyes to some of the dalliances of the Kennedy administration, all the way through the Giuliani administration. Reporters were taught to get along. Things have changed and the press is not willing to do that anymore.
Tanzina: Jim, you started out as a reporter in the late 1970s. You've covered big investigations, including the Son of Sam murders in New York City. When you were doing that type of work, how did you build relationships with police officers?
Jim: I generally went directly to the police officers involved rather than their bosses or a public relations spokesman. Detectives, like all of us are very proud of their work and they like to discuss it. I would go out of my way to meet them usually two or three o'clock in the morning to find out what had happened that day, sometimes significant, sometimes not and just the fact that I showed interest led them to be more open with me.
Tanzina: Simone, you currently work with a lot of stories that directly involve police officers and others, you have deep sources in the community. How do you see that? What's the relationship for you as a journalist right now with the police?
Simone: To echo what Jim said, it really hasn't changed. I think a good deep source reporter, you don't need to rely on the public affairs of a police department. I actually think that's lazy reporting or reporters who don't cover the subject. I spend a lot of my time just speaking to police chiefs, former police chiefs, a lot of union officials. The whole point of that is A, we need to talk to people directly involved in a situation and a public affairs job of a police department is to spin the news.
Their job is not to help a reporter get information. The Marshall Project, we approach the police beat, which I've been at the Marshall Project since we launched in 2014, more almost like academic. Let's look at the data, let's get reports. We have time to file public records request in FOIA. I also used to work at the Daily News, shout out to the Daily News.
When you're a Daily reporter, you may not have the time to wait two or three months for records to come back through FOIA public records requests but luckily for me at the Marshall Project, I do. I build my stories, not needing to rely on comment from a police department on record, because you'll never get your work done that way.
Tanzina: What Jim was saying, you also have relationships with police themselves where you can have conversations with them and hear what they're thinking, have those relationships changed Simone, given the current state of affairs that we just described at the top of the show? There's more tension now.
Simone: Again, if you're a deep source reporter, you're talking to these folks every day anyway and I say, shout out brave soul to the reporters on the front lines, covering the protests and I'm really sorry and it's scary to see what has happened to them, but that's a different job from what I do. I try to look at policing, why's it broken? Why are there broken systems in policing? That's more an investigative beat.
I don't thank God have to be out there on the front lines and exposing myself to harm. I in a sense, I have the luxury of sitting here putting together months-long projects with public records, requests and data and speaking to the people. I at this point in my career, I'm able to build a police beat a lot different than what I was doing a couple of years ago at the New York Daily News when yes, you are out there.
I covered [unintelligible 00:05:45] Park and the 1% protest if your listeners remember that 10 years ago now. That was a different time too, but journalists were also assaulted back then. This is not new for those of us covering policing.
Tanzina: Jim, what do journalists do right now in this scenario? We've seen arrest of Omar Jimenez, for example, on television while he was filing a report for CNN. We heard audio from a journalist who was directly attacked with rubber bullets and the officer saw that she was there with a crew. What recourse do journalists have at this point?
Jim: The same recourse that they've always had. They just need to get along with the situation. The difference between what we're talking about here is someone who's covering the police department. The reporters were talking about her covering a live story. The live story is very fluid, very violent and tempers are high and everybody needs to understand that.
Sometimes you need to take a step back, if you're not a photographer, if you don't need actuality for radio, you don't need to get your nose right in the middle of things.
It is very disrespectful for the police to be abusing reporters. Their job is not to critique the police. Their job is to cover the story. Then if people are well-behaved, they should have no fear of reporters.
Tanzina: Simone, to Jim's point there, the one thing is covering protests and running into law enforcement they're on the ground. There's another thing which is covering police departments and just covering breaking news for a lot of our listeners, that's a fire or a protest or something that just started happening. In order to do that, at least in New York City, reporters have to go through the New York City Police Department to get a press pass.
Does that make sense to have journalists rely on the police department in order to get access to events that the police are essentially covering?
Simone: As a Marshall project reporter, very good point. I can't get an NYPD issued police press pass. To get that, you have to submit three clips or three stories or a photographer, three pictures that shows that in the last couple of months, I covered three breaking news events. Therefore, I need this press pass. What does a press pass get you access to? More or less the front lines of a protest or a parade or something like that.
I can get into the court building now with the Marshall Project business card. Sometimes you get a hard time going to a local court. I'm a national reporter, so I'm not always needing to go to New York City Court, but it's problematic, but big cities do need a way to regulate who are the working day-to-day journalists? New York City is a huge, huge media market and I know from spending six years on the beat at the New York Daily News, you are flooded with freelancers, you're flooded with people who aren't journalists at all.
You just want to maybe sell a video. Almost like paparazzi for crime. Yes, that's a thing. I think those people aren't necessarily trained like we are, the day-to-day reporters who are out there, who have cultivated the relationship with law enforcement. Would it be nice to have that process maybe go through the mayor's office or another office? Yes, but I can tell you when I was at the Daily News, you always had to go upstairs to the top police headquarters and apply for that press pass.
Tanzina: Jim, when you see what's happening on the ground here, I'm wondering some of that has got to trickle down to folks who are-- The beat cops who were handling some of these protests. I'm wondering if behind the scenes-- And I'd love to hear from Simone, you as well, just in terms of behind the scenes, what are police officers really saying, if they're saying anything about what they're seeing right now, in terms of these increased hostile interactions with press.
Jim: I think that they're feeling quite disrespected. Their view is that their job is to fight crime and maintain order and they're being faced with a situation of being picked on for things that have happened for hundreds of years that are beyond their control and they feeling a little bit powerless. When one feels powerless, there is a natural reaction to lash out in some ways--
Tanzina: Jim, to that point, they understand that the protestors are protesting one thing, but the press has a constitutional right to be at these protests.
Jim: Oh, I'm not denying that at all. What I'm saying is you asked what an average cop thinks and the average cop, just like a reporter on the beat is not necessarily thinking long term, they're thinking immediate.
People are yelling at you, people are screaming at you, people throwing stuff at you and you're going to be frightened and angry. I think that's how these things break down. It's not a good thing and they should be trained better than to let a little shouting get under their skin.
Tanzina: Simone, what about you? Are law enforcement that you talked to even concerned about this at all or do they just consider it part of the evolution of what's happening in this country whether it's right or not?
Simone: It's interesting that I speak to mainly police leaders because I approached the beat more about police reform. It's a different response than like the average cop on the street. Before we had cries for defunding police or reimagining police, I would say in the first few weeks or first few days of the George Floyd incident, I mean, no police chief thought what happened to George Floyd was okay. I mean, that was consensus.
Then the defunding movement started in the first few days people were saying that's BS. That would never happen, but now you have shifts that cities, city council are actually voting to start taking away funding from police departments. Defunding is re-imagining. That is the police term buzzword for those who are okay with let's rethink police the word they like to use, let's reimagine police.
Even for the fact that they're at the point of let's use the word re-imagining police and let's rethink this is a big step from I would say six weeks ago before policing was in the national spotlight again.
Tanzina: Jim, we've got about a minute left in the segment. What do you think can be done to improve the relationship between journalists and police departments?
Jim: I do think that police reporters need to be spending more time with police and having open and frank discussions when it's almost like a dress rehearsal. If you're in the middle of the stuff, people are not always going to behave well. At the Daily news, we had a special program to take police reporters to shooting ranges with cops and show them how quickly things happen when things go bad. It was a real eye opener for both the police and the reporters to understand how difficult both jobs were.
Tanzina: Jim Mulvaney is an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Simone Weichselbaum is the national enforcement law enforcement reporter for the Marshall Project. Simone, Jim, thanks to you both.
Jim: Thank you.
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