A measure of how far we’ve fallen as a democracy
1.12.2012 Leave a comment
Responding to a report in the online publication the Awl (11/17/11) about 26 journalists who had been arrested around the country at Occupy protests, New York City mayoral spokesperson Stu Loeser declared in a note to the press (New York Observer, 11/17/17), “You can imagine my surprise when we found that only five of the 26 arrested reporters actually have valid NYPD-issued press credentials.”
Since the Awl story was tallying arrests nationwide, it’s not surprising that few of the journalists had credentials issued by New York’s police — who are notoriously reluctant to issue such credentials anyway. What’s telling, though, is the triumphant way the spokesperson reveals this fact — as if reporters who lack “valid” permits from the authorities should expect to be arrested if they try to report the news anyway.
The idea behind the First Amendment, of course, is that no one is required to seek permission from the government before attempting to report the news. And few situations call out more urgently for independent journalistic scrutiny than the state’s use of force against nonviolent political protest.
This is an old story. But it remains timely in any case. For one thing, the security-surveillance apparatus hardly wants an independent media scrutinizing what are often the criminal acts committed by some of its members. After all, depictions of system generated criminality hardly affirm America’s self-conceit as a society ruled by law. Nor do they serve to legitimate governmental power. For another thing, it is sad but true nonetheless that the mainstream media companies could not be bothered to defend the First Amendment rights of their ‘lesser’ counterparts. But what use would these rights be to most of the ‘journalists’ working for these companies. They typically self-censor their coverage of the world, tacitly deriding, as we have recently seen, critical analysis of the claims made by public figures as the work of “truth vigilantes”! These official journalists practice what has been called “stenographic journalism,” which amounts to the mere recitation of the claims of the powerful. These official journalists find contentment in their servitude. Thirdly, the story is timely because “Whatever we know about our society, or indeed about the world in which we live, we know through the mass media” (Luhmann, 2000, p. 1). The mainstream media in the United States are, of course, the preeminent sources of what we know about the world. Their observations carry social and political weight. Their unwillingness to critically engage the world they observe and report on along with their unwillingness to defend the legal rules intended to secure a free press secures for the powerful the capacity to define what is true and what is false, what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. Their actions and reports can thus serve to normalize police misconduct and even state terror, which is to say, the mainstream media can transform official violence into legitimate behavior. This possibility reveals the presence of a “Big Brother” telling us what to believe and what to do.
The upshot: A free press, that is, one unauthorized by a government but also one that can rely upon well-respected constitutional guarantees, stands as a necessary countervailing institution to any sitting government, but especially to an increasingly intrusive and militarized one like we have the United States today.
- Bloomberg’s office admits to arresting journalists for covering OWS (rt.com)
- Occupy Wall St, The NYPD And The Media: Reconsidering ‘Press Passes’ In A Digital Age (mediaite.com)
- Media Can Avoid NYPD Arrest By Getting Press Pass They Can’t Get (wired.com)
- Bloomberg’s office admits to arresting journalists for covering OWS (kaystreet.wordpress.com)
- Bloomberg’s Flack Attempts To Justify Crackdown On Journalists (pixiq.com)
- Timothy Karr: Mayor Bloomberg’s First Amendment Problem (huffingtonpost.com)
- Tensions Between Police And Media Increase Nationwide Amid Occupy Protests (huffingtonpost.com)
- OWS, N.Y. press readies for ‘Bloomberg army’ reporter abuse protest (examiner.com)
- Media Decoder Blog: News Organizations Complain About Treatment During Protests (mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Occupy Wall Street Press Beatings Irk Press Orgs, But Bloomberg News Stays Silent (newyork.ibtimes.com)