Footage from Rick Rowley and Brandon Jourdan depicting the Monday arrest of journalist Amy Goodman.
This week during the Republican National Convention, the work of the journalist is not just inside the convention hall. It’s also out on the street.
The news Monday was all about the street, where 283 people were arrested. Swarms of reporters were there, reporting on what the people and police were up to during a day full of major protests and side-street smashups.
But, what happens when the journalist-as-observer becomes the journalist-as-participant?
They get arrested and lots of First Amendment talk comes up.
Amy Goodman, the host of “Democracy Now!,” a nationally syndicated public radio and television program, says she was arrested Monday despite clearly identifying herself as a journalist.
Goodman says she had just heard two of her producers had been arrested and she ran up to a police line to inquire about her colleagues. She says the seemingly simple act got her arrested, too.
See the video of Goodman’s arrest here.
“It was very clear who I was,” says Goodman. “I had all my credentials hanging from my neck. ‘Look — these are my credentials,’ I said. A Secret Service agent walked up to me and said, ‘Oh really?’ and ripped my credentials off my neck.”
Goodman says her arrest and that of her two colleagues (who were caught up in a police action and not the initial targets of it) was a “complete abuse of power.”
“What is our role as journalists? It’s to be the eyes and ears,” says Goodman. “There’s a reason our profession is explicitly protected by the Constitution — because we’re the check and balance on power, the eyes and ears. And when the eyes and ears are closed it’s very dangerous for democratic society.”
While Goodman’s definition is acceptable to most, journalists can have a mistaken sense of entitlement or of greater protections than the average Joe, says Jane Kirtley, professor of media ethics and law school of Journalism at the University of Minnesota.
“The First Amendment protects journalists same as everybody else,” says Kirtley.
“A press credential does not give greater protection.”
Still, Kirtley calls the arrests very disappointing and says the police in St. Paul should have been trained better.
“It is no shock to anybody that journalists are out there trying to record what’s happening,” says Kirtley. “If confrontations with police are happening, then that’s news. It doesn’t take much sophistication to tell the difference between someone with a camera versus someone wielding a club or something.”
St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington, who is in charge of all policing during the RNC, defends his officers’ conduct in the arrest of the journalists. He says in a moment of chaos, police officers can’t always make a distinction between journalists and citizens.
Moreover, says Harrington, “if a reporter has committed a crime, whether they have credentials or not, they become regular citizens.”
Goodman has been charged with interfering with the administration of a police officer, and her two producers, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, face felony riot charges. They were all three released from jail after a few hours.
It’s unclear if the charges against them will be dropped or whether any crimes were committed by the journalists.
For their part, the “Democracy Now!” crew is determined to finish out their work covering the convention.
“We’re facing these charges and we have a job to do,” says Goodman. “We’re here to cover the Republican National Convention. We’re not supposed to be the story, we’re supposed to be covering the big story. But [the police] are putting us in the story.”
Marisa Helms, a former metro-area reporter for Minnesota Public Radio, writes about St. Paul and east metro issues.