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Whither Freedom of the Press?

Increasingly, it’s difficult for me to write this blog. I find myself wanting to be involved in something more than empty words. Blogging seems pointless when there is so much news out there already which is being ignored.

Police departments are doing their best to help with that problem, though — by reducing the amount of news you’re allowed to see and hear.

Friday, yet another reporter was arrested — this time for videotaping at the scene of an accident. This accident occurred at the end of a police chase and, as Fox News reports (2015 update: link has vanished), the news photographer who was arrested was assigned the job of getting video. If you watch the video — it appears at the top of the Fox story — you can see that the photographer, when first confronted, is not even remotely “in the scene.” The officer answers the question of why the reporter must leave by first stating, “Because I want you to.” After that, he starts saying the reason is because it’s an active scene.

The photographer walks away as the officer continues to follow him, telling him to leave. The officer ignores other people present “at the scene” — they aren’t filming. Whatever they might “report” later will not be backed by any evidence, if there is no reporter’s videotape. Officers will be able to say whatever they want about “what really happened.”

The reporter finally gets into a car and drives away — far enough that the officer has to get into his own car to drive to where the photographer is located to arrest him for “being in the scene” when the officer realizes he is still filming. Still doing his job as a news reporter. In a public area. With other people walking past him, through what the cop appears to consider the inviolable “scene.”

The truth of the matter is that the officer didn’t give a damn about “the scene.” The police simply do not want videos or photographs showing them“in the scene.” Videos might show them planting evidence. Or videos might show — if there are people “in the scene” being arrested — the now fairly commonplace police brutality. (2015 update: link has vanished) The reason for police over-reaction is often irrational and not even emergency personnelare safe from the irrationality. (Incidentally, to all my clients, potential clients, and friends whom I routinely advise not to answer questions when confronted by law enforcement. This video — where the officer indicates that due to pending legal actions, he won’t be answering questions — shows you that even the cops know this is a good idea.)

But police officers aren’t just arresting reporters for videotaping them. In some cases, reporters are arrested simply for asking questions in an attempt to get information for a news story. Other times, reporters and accompanying photographers are arrested while attempting to cover protests against the government.

Increasingly, criticizing — or even just plain documenting — the actions of the police against citizens is cause for arrest. But, as lawyer James Green in Florida has pointed out, videotaping the police is

[P]robably the most effective way to protect citizens against police officers who exaggerate or lie.

And therein lies the problem. Police officers today are not the same police that my parents — or even I — grew up knowing. Police officers today are actually taught how to lie. In some cases, the training in how to lie is given to show police how to collect evidence; however justified someone might think that is, it’s still lying. And, having been taught to lie, the police become desensitized to lying. Lying by police officers becomes such a routine event that I seriously doubt the police even know when they’re lying anymore. Lying loses its opprobrium for the officers, who feel justified in lying even to judges and juries.

If this keeps up, I won’t have to worry about feeling that there’s already so much news out there being ignored. Maybe I’ll be able to blog again. I won’t be able to link to much in the way of trusted sources, though, if the police get their way.

But, where there is no freedom of the press, and there are no other options for spreading the word and reigning in government, blogging probably will still remain pointless. Who listens to bloggers, anyway?

No. I strongly suspecct those of us who wish to resist the police state will have to find other weapons than words and cameras.

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