Bloomberg and Kelly Bust the Press

Their treatment during the Occupy Wall Street raid was a disgrace to this city’s history

Since 1958, when I became a reporter at the Voice, I have covered every mayor—including the monarchical Rudy Giuliani—and every police commissioner, but never have I witnessed such brutish contempt for the First Amendment rights of the press (and therefore of us) as the Bloomberg–Kelly arrests and other prior restraints of reporters.

The disgrace to this city has become a national issue. Enter the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which gives free legal support to thousands of journalists across the country and is a frequent First Amendment litigator in the courts. I joined the Reporters Committee in the 1970s and am on its steering committee.

Charges Executive Director Lucy Dalglish: “It is extremely disturbing that credentialed journalists would be singled out in a roundup aimed at preventing them from witnessing police activity in the disbanding of the Occupy Wall Street camp. What country are we living in?” (Emphasis added.)

Clearing Zuccotti Park, November 15.
C.S. Muncy
Clearing Zuccotti Park, November 15.

When self-anointed First Amendment Mayor Bloomberg insisted that reporters were being kept away from police roundups for their own good, Dalglish said: “As the owner of a major media company, Mayor Bloomberg surely knows journalists cover dangerous situations every day.” This mayor knows everything.

Adds Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who is running for mayor: “Zuccotti Park is not Tiananmen Square.” (Daily News, November 16) That’s when he got my vote.

In a letter to the Bloomberg–Kelly silencers, the ever-vigilant Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, confronted them with their un-American official occupancy of Zuccotti Park: “Journalists who are already in the park were forced to leave under threat of arrest, while others, even those with NYPD-issued press credentials, were blocked by barricades. . . . When one attempted to remain south of Cortland Street on Broadway, he was told, ‘I don’t give a fuck who you are—you wasted your chance.’”

Added Michael Powell of The New York Times on November 22: “Over several days, New York cops have arrested, punched, whacked, shoved to the ground and tossed barriers at reporters and photographers.”

But this NYPD hoodlum culture has been rife before Occupy Wall Street. Powell reminds us: “At least since the Republican National Convention of 2004, our police have grown accustomed to forcibly pinning, arresting, and sometimes spraying and whacking protesters and reporters.” (Emphasis added.)

The First Amendment still being vigorously alive during the reign of Bloomberg and Kelly, the New York City press has not been subdued. Reminding their censors what country they’re living in, stinging protest letters have been sent to these high officials who purportedly serve us—as well as their puppet spokesman, Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne—by The New York Times; Reuters; the New York Post; TV networks CBS, NBC, and ABC; the Associated Press; the New York Daily News; the Deadline Club; the Newswomen’s club; News Media Guide; and others I don’t have space to include.

What’s the reaction from public servant Bloomberg, but also the man riding high in polls, Ray Kelly? Dig this: They know that with our instant access to ceaseless news and pontificating, few stories stay alive in the public mind for long.

So, the way for officials to defuse smoldering public criticism is to solemnly promise immediate remediation. (“Trust us!”) I doubt that many New Yorkers have full faith in the credibility of our prancing mayor. But the police commissioner has long been widely respected and by some, even almost revered (including by certain journalists).

Get this: Ray Kelly has issued an internal message ordering officers in New York City not to interfere with journalist access during news media coverage. Those who do will be subject to disciplinary action. (New York Times, November 24) Do you believe in Santa Claus?

The New York Civil Liberties Union will remain alert. Donna Lieberman makes the necessary point that there has been a “lack of meaningful oversight over the NYPD.”

Lieberman suggests that it’s “time for the City Council to weigh in and figure whether there is a legislative response.” Surely there should be, but the City Council is not noted for meaningful and sustained real-time action to bring this mayor and his police commissioner into the rule of law. It’s necessary to emphasize “sustained” action.

This and other approaches to accountability are reported in Joe Pompeo’s “Media, civil liberties groups look at legislative options to address NYPD actions during protests.” (, November 23)

And now let’s hear from candidates to succeed our incumbent mayor and his decidedly selective enforcement of the First Amendment. Would Christine Quinn dare criticize the iconic Ray Kelly?

I am somewhat encouraged by the “Coalition Formed to Monitor Police/Press Relations in NYC.” The NYPC declares: “We are determined to use any means needed to fight such censorship in the future. In the city in which John Peter Zenger fought for and helped establish freedom of the press, we can do no less.”

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