The Bloomberg administration is being targeted by the media right now for the NYPD’s banning and arresting of reporters during last week’s expulsion of the Occupy Wall Street tent city.
In a letter signed by media companies and press groups, New York Times lawyer George Freeman accuses the police department of violating its own media procedures. The letter demands a meeting with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and his spokesperson, Paul Browne.
After the jump, quotes from the letter, the curious statements from City Hall, and why press passes are useless in this city.
The letter cites a series of encounters between the media and the police during the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. Among the bullet points are the ban on the press from covering the raid on Zuccotti Park, the arrests of reporters, and several instances where reporters were shoved to the ground and verbally abused.
“The police actions of the last week have been more hostile to the press than any other event in recent memory,” the letter states.
Worse yet, the letter notes that the NYPD has ignored three previous letters on these issues dating back months. Can you say “no accountability?”
Bloomberg’s people justified the ban by saying they were “protecting the safety” of reporters. Nanny state rhetoric that shouldn’t have been uttered with a straight face. Another claim was that reporters were just trespassing like the protesters. Also, patently ridiculous.
Last week, Bloomberg aide Howard Wolfson offered this bizarre justification for the banning of the press during the raid.
He claimed “in the middle of an ongoing police action, you don’t have reporters along,” adding, “We don’t take reporters when we’re busting down doors.”
While it’s true that the police have basically stopped giving ride-alongs to the press (though they do it for big time donors), the media is constantly present for police actions, and they don’t end up with reporters being banned or arrested.
Plus, this wasn’t a secret narcotics raid inside some apartment in the Bronx. It happened in a public park in the very heart of the city.
All of which brings us to the press pass itself. Once a useful document that allowed reporters to witness events at a closer proximity, the NYPD press pass is now officially worthless.
As our colleague, the photojournalist C.S. Muncy, recently wrote, the press pass is like having a big yellow “arrest me” sign on your shirt.
Even worse, most city reporters will tell you that the press pass actually confers less access than that of a regular person. Reporters are stuck in pens while regular folks move around at will. Indeed, Freeman’s letter notes, “The credentialed press were targeted and subject to increased scrutiny and greater restrictions than members of the general public.”
It’s for that reason that this reporter hasn’t had a press credential in more than a decade. There’s no value to having one, because the NYPD and City Hall have dismantled the benefits that it once provided.
It’s amazing to me that reporters go along with this sort of treatment. Stuck in a pen? Conferred fewer rights than a regular person? Poked and prodded and pushed around all in the idea that there’s some special access right around the corner, and if you just play your cards right, you’ll get it?
Here’s a secret: that special access isn’t coming. The NYPD press operation is not there to serve the media. It’s there to protect the mayor and the police commissioner. The tactics in Zuccotti Park didn’t come out of the blue. They are part of a pattern of reducing press access that goes back to 1995 and the Giuliani years, that Bloomberg and Kelly have continued and made even more restrictive. On a routine basis, the department refuses to release public records, ignores requests for information, fails to respond to emails, etc., etc., and incredibly, the press lets them get away with it.
The press corps might be smarter to simply assume zero access and develop other methods of getting information. Life is too short, after all.