Tom Fiedler supports journalists whose coverage of the Zuccotti Park evacuations was disrupted by police. But the former executive editor of The Miami Herald does not think the police violated the media’s First Amendment rights.
Fiedler writes in an email to Poynter:
As a former journalist who has been pepper gassed, detained, shoved and screamed at (but never beaten) by law enforcement during my career, I can empathize with those reporters in New York whose attempts to cover the Zuccotti Park raid were hindered or worse by NYC’s finest.
Few responsibilities carry a higher priority for journalists than providing the citizenry with accurate accounts of police activity, particularly when that activity is in pursuit of a public policy that impacts other citizens. As a result I believe reporters should aggressively attempt to get close to such activity so their reports will be accurate and timely.
But I can’t agree that the police action in Zuccotti Park was a violation of the First Amendment’s press freedom. The amendment’s clause that ‘Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of the press…,’ doesn’t mean that the press is free to go anywhere at any time. It certainly is not at all unusual for the media to be kept away from a potential crime scene during police action. (Similarly, reporters cannot wander into the Oval Office, sit in the corner, and observe anything that happens, claiming a First Amendment right to do so).
Unless I missed it, none of the reporters around Zuccotti Park were barred from publishing, broadcasting or otherwise informing others of what they witnessed during and after the raid. Nor am I aware that any photojournalist’s cameras were seized or destroyed, any recordings destroyed, nor any reporter kept from interviewing an Occupier by police after the raid ended.
So, hooray for reporters for trying to do what they do and for pounding Mayor Bloomberg for making their jobs difficult. But I’d be hard pressed to see where the First Amendment was among the victims.
Related: Occupy DC says Washington Post reporter Tim Craig is “biased” and “dismissive” of the movement. Craig responds: “I believe I’ve been very fair to Occupy D.C.” (Washington City Paper)