Peaceful protesters were attacked as Trump spoke, and the media — thankfully — was there to shine a light on it

Your Tuesday Poynter Report

June 2, 2020
Category: Newsletters

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We need to see it.

If history has taught us anything, Americans need to actually see injustice before they fully accept it. That’s not a good thing. In fact, it’s disturbing. But it’s true.

George Floyd is not the first African American to die in police custody, but sadly, we might never have realized the horrific actions of the Minneapolis police if it wasn’t for the video. His inexcusable death might have gone unnoticed by most of the country.

Rodney King was not the first African American beaten by police, but it wasn’t until we saw the video of him being beaten by Los Angeles cops in the early 1990s that many Americans had no choice but to acknowledge this reprehensible behavior exists.

For years, we condemned domestic violence, but it wasn’t until we saw the violent hotel security video of football player Ray Rice hitting his then-fiance in 2014 that we finally became disgusted by something we should have already known was truly awful.

It shouldn’t have to be this way, but it is. We need to see it.

That brings us to the importance of the media covering protests. These moments must be documented. We must see them. All of them.

And the scenes that played out Monday evening were simply incredible. Just as President Donald Trump was beginning to speak Monday evening, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets and began driving back what appeared to be peaceful protests near the White House.

It was remarkable, if perhaps entirely disconcerting, television. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer announced, “This situation is about to get a whole lot worse.” His colleague Don Lemon said, “We are teetering on dictatorship.”

Alexander Marquardt of CNN said, “I can’t overstate what a dramatic moment we just witnessed and experienced. If the president was looking for a made-for-TV moment, he certainly got it.”

“I’ve seen a lot of things,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on CNN, “but I was shocked.”

It was critical that the American people saw it. And why we need to see the protests from all across the country.

Which is why it’s so troubling when authorities try to prevent the media from covering these moments.

It’s not clear exactly how many instances there have been of police assaulting, attacking or otherwise stopping journalists from covering protests. But even one is too many.

One video emerged Monday of police slapping the camera out of the hands of a journalist during the White House protest. There are more examples, but two stand out.

First, this tweet from Wall Street Journal reporter Tyler Blint-Welsh, an African American reporter who said he was hit multiple times in the face by New York City police, lost his glasses and suffered a badly injured ankle.

And then there’s the story of Andrea Sahouri, a reporter from The Des Moines Register. While covering a demonstration Sunday, Sahouri was arrested for failure to disperse and interference with official acts. Even after she identified herself as a member of the media, Sahouri was sprayed in the face with pepper spray.

“I’m press, I’m press, I’m press,” Sahouri told police while sitting in a police car.

She was released later in the night.

MORE ON PRESS SAFETY: 23 guidelines for journalists to safely cover protests

For starters, if the police are going to treat the media that way, imagine how they treat citizens who don’t have a platform to broadcast or publicize their treatment. Which is why it’s critical the media is there to do it for them. But, most of all, Americans are practicing their First Amendment rights and it’s important that the media is there to document that they are free to do so.

The protests will continue. The media must be allowed to continue covering them without fear, without restrictions, without restraints.

It’s what makes us a democracy.

A tale of two countries

Two different audiences — and countries, perhaps — are wrapped up in these two chyrons running simultaneously as President Trump stood in front of a church following his brief remarks Monday:

CNN: “Peaceful protestors near White House gassed, shot with rubber bullets so Trump can have church photo-op.”

Fox News: “President Trump visits historic St. John’s Church in DC amid protests.”

And, later, this from CNN: “Trump says he’s an ‘ally of all peaceful protesters’ as police fire tear gas, rubber bullets on peaceful protestors near WH.”

Holt’s remarks

NBC News’ Lester Holt. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Here’s how “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt opened his broadcast Monday night:

“The shattered glass from a night of rage has largely been swept up here in New York’s SoHo neighborhood and communities across the country that were rocked by spasms of looting and violence overnight. Now the ritual of boarding up takes place and bracing for what tonight may bring. An anguished and weary America asking, when will this all end? When will the protests end? When will the police brutality that triggered them end? The virus, the financial ruin that have taken us to the edge, when will they end?”

Discipline in Louisville

The police officer believed to have fired pepper balls at a Louisville TV crew has been reassigned pending an investigation.

Louisville Metro Police Department assistant chief LaVita Chavous said, “Officers do have orders not to fire pepper balls at media but I’m sure you hopefully understand that sometimes when the media are involved inside the crowd or inside the area where there are protestors and those protestors are doing something unlawful or something they are not supposed to do it’s sometimes an unintended consequence when we fire the pepper balls into the crowd.”

That seems like a weak explanation. If you look at the video from WAVE 3, it’s hard to believe the officer didn’t know it was a news crew. The station put out a statement saying, “When the officer fired at (journalists) Ms. Rust and Mr. Dobson, the two had been following police instructions, were standing behind the police line when they were fired upon, and were not disrupting or otherwise interfering with law enforcement.”

It also should be noted that Louisville police chief Steve Conrad was forced out Monday. He already had planned on stepping down later this month. Conrad was under fire after Louisville police shot and killed 26-year-old emergency-room technician Breonna Taylor earlier this year. She was shot in her apartment while police, who didn’t identify themselves, were investigating two suspected drug dealers who police believe used Taylor’s apartment to receive a package.

Then, early Monday morning, a Louisville-area restaurant owner named David McAtee was shot and killed by police during a protest. Louisville media reported that the police officers at the scene had not activated their body cameras.

A Facebook rebellion

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

Looks like a serious revolt is underway at Facebook. Employees staged a virtual walkout Monday to protest how the company has dealt with (or not dealt with) President Trump’s misleading, lying and even threatening posts. The New York Times’ Sheera Frenkel and Mike Isaac have the lowdown — including that CEO Mark Zuckerberg will move his weekly meeting from Thursday to today.

But there’s much more than just a walkout. Some Facebook employees have threatened to resign and Frenkel and Isaac wrote, “More than a dozen current and former employees have described the unrest as the most serious challenge to the leadership of Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive, since the company was founded 15 years ago.”

Adweek’s Scott Nover noted that several Facebook employees have gone public with their complaints.

Jason Toff, Facebook’s director of product management, tweeted, “The majority of coworkers I’ve spoken to feel the same way. We are making our voice heard.

Facebook design manager Jason Stirman tweeted, “I don’t know what to do, but I know doing nothing is not acceptable. I’m a FB employee that completely disagrees with Mark’s decision to do nothing about Trump’s recent posts, which clearly incite violence. I’m not alone inside of FB. There isn’t a neutral position on racism.”

The Times also obtained a copy of a Facebook internal message board in which one employee wrote, “The hateful rhetoric advocating violence against black demonstrators by the US President does not warrant defense under the guise of freedom of expression. … Along with Black employees in the company, and all persons with a moral conscience, I am calling for Mark to immediately take down the President’s post advocating violence, murder and imminent threat against Black people.”

For quite some time, and just again last week, Zuckerberg has taken the approach that Facebook is “not the arbiter of truth” and that it’s not up to Facebook to fact-check politicians. He said last week, “We’ve tried to distinguish ourselves as being really strong in favor of giving people a voice and free expression.”

Zuckerberg has seemed impervious to outside criticisms of his hands-off approach. If Facebook ever was going to reconsider its approach, it might take an internal revolt to make it happen.

‘Fox & Friends’ failure

Rough day over at “Fox & Friends” on Monday.

Let’s start with this quote from co-host Brian Kilmeade. He criticized New York City mayor Bill de Blasio by saying on the air, “He can’t even control his own family.” Kilmeade was referring to the fact that de Blasio’s daughter, Chiara, was arrested during a protest in New York City on Saturday night.

Mind you, Chiara de Blasio is an adult. She’s 25 years old and for Kilmeade to suggest that de Blasio should “control” his family is head-shaking. For the record and according to the New York Daily News, Chiara de Blasio was arrested when she refused an order to leave an area. She was charged with unlawful assembly and given a desk appearance ticket and was released.

Mayor de Blasio told reporters, “I love my daughter deeply, I honor her. She is such a good human being. She only wants to do good in the world. She wants to see a better and more peaceful world. She believes a lot of change is needed. I’m proud of her that she cares so much and that she was willing to go out there and do something about it.”

Meantime, the “Fox & Friends” crew had New York police commissioner Dermot Shea and New York police union leader Thomas Mungeer on and never asked about documented examples of protestors being assaulted by police. As I mentioned above, one of those assaulted by police was Tyler Blint-Welsh — a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, which is owned by News Corp, the same company that owns Fox News.

Blint-Welsh tweeted Sunday night, “Lost my glasses and my ankle is in searing pain after NYPD hit me in the face multiple times with riot shields and pushed me to the ground. I was backing away as requested, with my hands up. My NYPD-issued press badge was clearly visible. I’m just sitting here crying. This sucks.”

Wait, what?

(Fox News)

In another jaw-dropping moment on Fox News, host Kennedy Montgomery actually suggested that peaceful protestors should try to make citizen arrests if they see others starting trouble.

Montgomery told Fox News’ Harris Faulkner, “So if you’re going out and protesting and you’re a peaceful protester, take some zip ties and subdue some of these people and (make) a citizen’s arrest if they are hurting people, if they’re lobbying Molotov cocktails, if they’re setting things on fire, if they’re breaking things and committing crimes then go ahead help them find what they ultimately want, which is apparently arrest. … If you see an Antifa person and they have a backpack, go ahead and take it because they don’t believe in private property. So what’s theirs is yours.”

Thankfully and appropriately, Faulkner responsibly disagreed. She said, “We don’t want to engage people in trying to physically get involved with anybody else. But I understand what you’re saying, maybe not literally.”

Kennedy shrugged her shoulders.

Media tidbits

  • NBC News NOW and NBC BLK will present “Can You Hear Us Now?” — a virtual discussion streamed tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern on NBC News NOW. The show will be hosted by MSNBC’s Trymaine Lee and feature conversations with actors Don Cheadle and Kendrick Sampson, New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, rapper T.I. and Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.
  • Monday was the 40th anniversary of CNN’s first day as a network. Here’s a short clip about it. And, to repeat something I’ve said time and again of late, CNN’s coverage of the protests has been nothing short of extraordinary.
  • The New York Times has released its latest company diversity and inclusion report. Women now make up 51% of all staff and 49% of the leadership positions. White people make up 65% of all staff with people of color making up 32%. (Three percent declined to answer.) People of color account for 21% of leadership positions. As far as the newsroom (news and opinion), men make up 51% of staff, while women make up 54% of leadership positions. People of color make up 26% of the newsroom staff and 21% of the leadership positions.
  • Variety’s Brian Steinberg reports that MSNBC is running a news crawl across the bottom of the screen after a two-year absence. MSNBC hasn’t had a crawl since April 2018, when it was removed so viewers could concentrate on the news story being discussed on screen. Steinberg wrote the decision to bring it back was “ largely out of a feeling that it would help viewers as they navigate through several critical news events happening simultaneously.”
  • New York Post sports media columnist Andrew Marchand with a big scoop that NFL insider Josina Anderson is out at ESPN. No word yet on why or what’s next for Anderson.

Hot type

  • Alaska has the highest rate of sexual assault in the nation. Co-published by ProPublica (Adriana Gallardo, Nadia Sussman and Agnes Chang) and the Anchorage Daily News (Kyle Hopkins and Michelle Theriault Boots), it’s a project called “Unheard.”
  • With protesting across the country and social distancing being ignored, will we see a second wave of the coronavirus? The New York Times’ Roni Caryn Rabin reports.
  • This is required viewing. The New York Times combed through and combined security footage, witness videos and official documents to reconstruct the death of George Floyd. Stunning and important work by the Times’ Evan Hill, Ainara Tiefenthäler, Christiaan Triebert, Drew Jordan, Haley Willis and Robin Stein.
  • The latest cover story referring to Trump from The Atlantic: Anne Applebaum with “History Will Judge the Complicit.”

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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