The number of attacks against members of the press reporting on the riots in the US has increased significantly in recent days. Both police officers and ordinary citizens target journalists. According to experts, President Trump’s tweets about the media only add fuel to the fire.
Friday night, CNN viewers were able to watch live as journalist Omar Jimenez and his camera crew were arrested while reporting on a demonstration after George Floyd died in Minneapolis. On Saturday, journalist Kaitlin Rust of local television channel WAVE News from Louisville, Kentucky, shouted, “I’m getting shot! I’m being shot! ” and saw live how she and her camera crew were shot with pepper bullets by local police officers.
A journalist from VICE News got pepper spray in the face, although he followed the orders of the agents, stayed on the floor, and announced that he was part of the press. The video below shows how he (at approximately 00:30) is sprayed seemingly randomly in the face by an agent.
Saturday evening, Reuters journalist Julio-Cesar Chavez and Reuters security adviser Rodney Seward were hit and injured by rubber bullets during a demonstration.
A journalist for The Wall Street Journal tweeted that New York City police officers punched him in the face with riot shields several times and knocked him to the ground, even though he “was backing away as request, with my hands up”. “New York prosecutor Letitia James calls on Twitter to report the case to the cabinet.
Leland Vittert, a Fox News correspondent who also worked in a war zone, and his team were attacked by protesters near the White House on Friday after being recognized as a Fox News employee. “I haven’t been so scared since I got caught up in a crowd that turned on us in Tahrir Square (in Cairo, Egypt, ed.),” Said Vittert in an interview with Reuters on Sunday.
Organizations that document violence against members of the press reported about 25 incidents over three days. Disturbances were observed in cities such as Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and New York.
According to Bruce Brown, CEO of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, since 1968, members of the press felt so unsafe. In ’68 riots broke out in Chicago following the Democratic National Convention. The police then attacked some journalists.
The countless, targeted attacks by police officers on journalists have had to endure over the past two nights while reporting on demonstrations across the country are reprehensible and a clear violation of the First Amendment,” said Brown, referring to the first article by the US Constitution that guarantees the right to free speech.
The attacks are aimed at media organizations of different political tendencies. US President Trump himself has lashed out for years at media outlets critical to his policies. Even his beloved Fox News, which is usually very favorable to Trump and his approach, invariably gets a swipe through Twitter as soon as a channel journalist dares to step out of line.
On Sunday, Trump wrote on Twitter: “The Lamestream (a play on words on mainstream, ed.) Media is doing everything within their power to foment hatred and anarchy. As long as everybody understands what they are doing, that they are FAKE NEWS and truly bad people with a sick agenda, we can easily work through them to GREATNESS!”
“He (Trump) is not the only trigger,” said Brown. But “if he stopped attacking journalists, it would help a lot.”
Moreover, seeing how journalists are arrested and attacked on television sends a message to viewers that there are no repercussions for the violence, media experts say.
The Minnesota governor has apologized for the arrest of the CNN journalists, and the Louisville Police Department apologized for the attack on Rust. However, no action has been taken against the agents involved. Fox and CNN have strongly condemned the violence against their journalists and other members of the media.