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Amy Goodman’s arrest: When journalists are the story

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.”

Goodman answering reporters' questions about her arrest.
MinnPost photo by Marisa Helms
Goodman answering reporters’ questions about her arrest.

“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 while taping her show Tuesday morning at the SPNN studios in St. Paul.
MinnPost photo by Marisa Helms
Goodman while taping her show Tuesday morning at the SPNN studios in St. Paul.

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.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 09/02/2008 - 11:40 pm.

    Congratulations Sean. You must be the first person ever to attack Democracy Now! for being too far to the right.

    Harrington is being completely disingenuous. Clearly the journalists, and this makes five I know of right now, have been assaulted by police while doing their jobs, and he just says they’re no different than anyone else. Maybe he doesn’t know the circumstances, but then he shouldn’t pretend he does. It sure looks like journalists are being targeted, not just caught up by accident.

  2. Submitted by Sean Moffett on 09/02/2008 - 05:25 pm.

    Democracy Now is reaping what they sow by supporting the likes of Joe Biden. They see nothing wrong with supporting individuals who promote a police state and denial of due process as long as men are oppressed via injustice to promote illegal immigration and radical women’s advocacy groups.

    Democracy Now needs to oppose the likes of Joe Biden if they oppose what happened to Amy Goodman. I believe this arrest was kharmically justified.

    Stop Joe Biden! Stop the Police State! Stop VAWA Based immigration fraud… Arrest more activists that don’t see the police state they perpetuate and maybe we can prevent this sort of injustice.

  3. Submitted by Tom Poe on 09/03/2008 - 12:48 am.

    Without special protection, reporters will not risk their lives to gather information to inform the public. In a police state, the police will provide the press with “appropriate” footage.

    How about, without special protection, police will not be able to have third party support for their actions, and will have to defend themselves in never-ending “he said, she said” actions in court.

    How about, Marisa likes the idea of a police state.

  4. Submitted by Pat Backen on 09/03/2008 - 12:51 pm.

    Thanks for the balanced, deeper reporting on this story – exactly what MinnPost should be doing!

    I have a couple of issues with the police response in these cases (and presumably others) – how is Amy Goodman “interfering with the administration of a police officer”? The video clearly shows her trying to ask a question and being pushed back behind the barrier. Only after she is behind the barrier is she arrested.

    Unfortunately there is not video of the other arrests – at least not released yet – but I am very skeptical that the journalists behavior was anything close to deserving a felony riot charge.

    With their heavy handed, almost belligerent manner the police are creating some of these escalations themselves.

    If the tactic is to just round up everyone in the area and then sort it out later, there are some very serious implications for our freedom and basic civil liberties – journalist or not.

  5. Submitted by Bob Collins on 09/03/2008 - 07:21 pm.

    //Without special protection, reporters will not risk their lives to gather information to inform the public. In a police state, the police will provide the press with “appropriate” footage

    Really? that will come as a surprise to the widow and children of Danny Pearl.

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