Take the case of John Wise, a national editor for MyFox, a subsection of Fox News. On September 4, the convention’s last night, Wise and a colleague left the Fox tent to cover a developing protest. He ended up moving back and forth over a series of bridges in downtown St. Paul, usually in response to police orders, shooting stills and video as police-launched weaponry detonated in the background. In the process, he formed a surprisingly good picture of the protesters. (“I’m not just trying to be some liberal journalist,” Wise tells the Phoenix, “but I did not see one protester get violent, break anything, throw anything at anybody, anything like that. People were wanting to get away, but that’s natural — they were scared.”)
Eventually, Wise ended up in a crowd of several hundred people on the Marion Street bridge, which was promptly sealed off by police on both the northern and southern ends. As the police began to make arrests, Wise recalls members of the press were promised that they’d be processed quickly and allowed to leave. Instead, his credentials and camera bag were confiscated; then he was taken to Ramsey County Jail, where he spent the night before being released early the following morning.
As you might expect, given his employer, Wise is no Amy Goodman. Nor does he come across as a passionate defender of press freedoms. But what he saw and experienced at the RNC seems to have given him pause.
“Why were some journalists arrested and some weren’t?” Wise asks. “Once things calmed down on the bridge, why were certain people told some things while other people were told other things? I’m not the biggest preacher of this amendment or that one. But something that’s very eye-opening, like what happened to me in St. Paul, will make you take a bit more of a stance.”
Unsettling as Wise’s experience may have been, he had it easy compared with Matt Rourke and Evan Vucci, two AP photographers who ran into trouble on the night of September 1. According to a letter that David Tomlin, the AP’s associate general counsel, sent to St. Paul police chief John Harrington, Rourke — who’d been following a violent splinter group of protesters on September 1 — was tackled from behind by a police officer and bloodied in the process. Then, he was arrested. (When he was released, without being charged, 10 hours later, at 2 am, a bystander quipped that he must be “well-connected.”)
Vucci, who was working near Rourke on September 1, was picked up from behind and thrown to the ground, an action that broke his camera. After he followed orders and rolled onto his stomach, he was kicked in the ribs and then cuffed. Ultimately, after showing his credentials, he was allowed to leave the area without being detained.
In his letter to Harrington, Tomlin contrasted the treatment of Rourke and Vucci with the three-hour detention, on September 4, of reporters Amy Forliti and Jon Krawczynski (who, like Wise, were arrested on the Marion Street bridge). Journalists covering this sort of story risk being detained, Tomlin acknowledged. But Rourke and Vucci weren’t given a chance to leave or peacefully submit to detention: “Instead, they were victims of unprovoked, gratuitously violent, and seemingly malicious attacks by officers whose lawful mission that day was to contain violence, not to add to it.” Tomlin’s letter was sent on September 5; as of this writing, according to Minnesota and Wisconsin AP bureau chief Dave Pyle, the St. Paul Police Department has yet to respond.