Beat the Press: The Stupidity of Occupy Assaults on Photojournalists
I didn't want to believe last week's Gothamist story about Occupy protesters assaulting photographers. But after conferring with several journalists who cover the New York arm of the movement, I've reluctantly concluded that it documents a real and troubling development:
A week ago, several hundred protesters ran through Lower Manhattan on a "Wildcat march" that was coordinated around other May Day protests. Some black bloc tactics were used, but most of the violence was directed towards photojournalists, as several fought with protesters who were attempting to damage their cameras or prevent them from covering the march. A thread on Anarchist News calls the photographers "vultures" and notes, "journalists are fucking enemies." But how many protesters actually believe this? And what does it say that a faction of anarchists seem to be taking a page from the NYPD in limiting what press can and cannot cover?
When I photographed New York Occupy in the fall, I never experienced any hostility from Occupiers, nor did I see any protesters being hostile to other reporters. That was consistent with my experience covering protests over the years, including some with a rowdy anarchist presence.
When I covered the Republican National Convention in St. Paul-Minneapolis in 2008, some self-proclaimed, black-clad anarchists invited indy media to "embed" with them as they ran around town setting fire to dumpsters and knocking over newspaper boxes. I declined, but the offer was there. This aggressive attitude, even from a small minority of protesters, strikes me as unprecedented and deeply disturbing.
Activist José Martín halfheartedly tried to justify the violence against photographers to Gothamist by arguing that the protesters acted out of "tactical necessity" to prevent the photographers from documenting illegal activities that might lead to their arrests.
If these activists don't want to get caught, they should either be more law-abiding or more stealthy. If their choice of tactics "necessitates" violence against unarmed photographers in the interests of censorship, they need to rethink their tactics.
While the Gothamist story identifies a real problem, its frame of blaming "anarchists" is potentially misleading. There are all kinds of self-identified anarchists in the Occupy Movement and the vast majority of them, like the vast majority of Occupiers in general, are not threatening the press or anyone else. On the contrary, I get press releases from the Occupy PR team inviting me to cover their actions.
Several of the journalists I talked to stressed that lumping the aggressors together under the banner of "anarchist" may make them seem more unified and coordinated than they actually are.
Some of the online anti-photographers are frustrated with the tenor of the media coverage. Yet their approach could not be more self-defeating. If word gets out that photographers are risking their gear at Occupy events, the only press that will cover these actions are corporate media with company-issued and insured gear. These are the outlets least likely to offer sympathetic coverage to Occupy.