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Sound off

One citizen journalist’s saga may bode poorly for the new arm of the press
By MIKE MILIARD  |  December 13, 2006


Anyone who wants to understand the perils of being a citizen journalist in an age of DIY media should consider the case of Freeman Z.

Freeman Z is the nom de reportage of Jeffrey Manzelli, a Cambridge sound engineer who, three years ago, was convicted of illegally wiretapping an MBTA cop at an open-air anti-war rally. He was ordered to pay a $450 fine, perform 100 hours of community service, and serve two years on probation.

How you can “wiretap” someone, let alone a cop, at an outdoor protest is a story in and of itself, but it suggests that when it comes to annoying what some like to call the Establishment, the 43-year old Manzelli is something of a pro. Manzelli’s willingness to push the envelope may well have led to his arrest — police often think people like him are a pain in the ass. But he may also have learned the hard way about a law that is ripe for abuse.

Breeding contempt
On September 28, 2002, Manzelli, who often covers speeches and rallies for local radio stations, was tape recording interviews at a well-attended anti-war rally on Boston Common. He noticed MBTA police officer Brian Harer monitoring the entrance to the Park Street subway station. Manzelli approached and, from either 18 feet away (his version) or five feet away (Harer’s) snapped a photo of the cop. What happened next is still under debate in court, more than four years later.

According to Manzelli, Harer — who declined to be interviewed for this story — threatened him, saying, “Don’t take my picture; if you publish it I can sue you personally.”

Manzelli says he walked away for a few moments and returned to Harer, who was by then chatting with MBTA inspector Charles Kenneally. He began interviewing both men, asking Kenneally if it’s true that taking an officer’s photograph is verboten, all the while recording the conversation on a portable cassette deck. The microphone, he contends, was clearly visible.

“I just basically started interviewing him,” Manzelli tells the Phoenix. “I was holding my camera in one hand, and I had the microphone right in my hand like this. No intention to hide it.”

Here’s where things get interesting. According to trial testimony, Harer noticed the mic and asked if he was being recorded. Manzelli said yes, and Harer objected.

Fearing his tapes would be confiscated, Manzelli acted on an impulse. He threw the microphone and the fanny-pack in which he carried his tape recorder and cassettes toward a crowd of protesters. Court records state that Manzelli yelled “Take the tapes! Take the tapes!” He remembers hollering, “Take it! Take it! Take it!” instead. But that’s academic. Either way, his goal was to protect his recordings.

Manzelli then moved toward the Park Street stairs, where Harer followed him. He threw another cassette toward the crowd, before being slapped with handcuffs and charged with unlawful wiretapping and disorderly conduct. After a two-day trial in 2003, he was found guilty on both counts.

Having served his probation and paid his fine (a stay was placed on his community service), Manzelli is now working to have his conviction overturned. It would appear that he has cause to appeal. He was convicted of violating a state law that makes it a crime to “secretly hear, secretly record, or aid another to secretly hear or secretly record the contents of any wire or oral communication through the use of any intercepting device.” This, despite the fact that Harer testified to seeing his microphone — he claimed Manzelli was trying to hide it, Manzelli insists he wasn’t — and that no audiocassettes were played for the jury. As his appeal argues, “there was no evidence that Mr. Manzelli recorded anything, let alone recorded anything secretly.”

But clearing his own name is not what’s motivating Manzelli to appeal his conviction. He’s doing it for others like him — and in hope that others will be more like him. Given the explosion of blogging and online video, coupled with increasing mistrust of “mainstream media,” more people are sniffing out news stories on their own. Manzelli’s fight raises important questions about this new breed of journalist — specifically, what protections they are entitled to under the current law.

Wild child
At first glance, Manzelli — or, more specifically, his Freeman Z persona — may look to be little more than another slightly eccentric lefty. He talks fast, and gesticulates wildly when he speaks, and in photos taken the day of his arrest, dressed in a flak vest and frame-pack, he looks like a cross between a war photographer and a thru-hiker.

As such, his case might seem easy to characterize as a minor kerfuffle. And old news to boot. Even Harer chuckled when reached by phone recently, seemingly incredulous that Freeman Z would merit a story: “A profile of him? I think I’ll pass.”

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Sound off
Thank you to Mike Miliard and the Phoenix for publishing this story. I'm a radio producer and reporter who for 20 plus years has worked mostly for non-commercial networks and stations. So I know how difficult it is to earn respect from public officials and those in authoritarian positions such as police officers. If the law on wiretapping is going to be applied in this way toward journalists, then we all have a stake in seeing it's removal from the general laws or at least modified. On the other hand, I know Jeff, and I know that he can be extremely volatile at times; something that would have come through in this story if Mike had gotten feedback from any number of my colleagues at WZBC, WMBR, or WMFO. Never, in 20 years, has a police officer while on duty at a protest, granted me an "on mike" interview. The question a journalist must ask is: if there is a better way to find out the who, what, where, why and when of the story, does it make sense to approach police officers. In my experience, it does not, as they either don't know, won't say, or are not allowed to speak to the press. Does this in any way excuse the alleged actions of Officer Harer; absolutely not, in my opinion. (For full disclosure purposes, I produce the weekly public affairs program RADIO with a VIEW on WMBR Cambridge) Respectfully, Dave Goodman
By Dave Goodman on 12/14/2006 at 5:19:13
Sound off
Freeman here. In (quoting G.W. Bush,) “a nation of laws” it is the act, not the actor, that defines a crime. I accidentally happened to appear to catch Harer breaking the law. I had no desire to speak with him at all, but he did something noteworthy, if not news-worthy. Harer first approached me, threatening to sue me out of my rights to make overt public documentary photography. Later, I asked him to what law he referred. He said “Look in any law book in any law library.” Scout’s Honor. When my wrongful verdict is overturned, it's conceivable that an (embarrassing-for-Harer ) recording may surface. On advice of Counsel, I am not going to say whether I intended , made, or possess any such recording, (though I shamelessly imply that I did, did, and do, and that the Commonwealth is violating the law by intimidating me from publishing an exculpatory item of public interest.) Any such recording would show me to have been calm and reasonable, though rather amazed. Look into Paul Pechonis and conte 2006 (Muzzle Awards, linked above) for more from the publishing angle. I hope that when testimony on reforming this law is heard on Beacon hill, that you will have something more productive to say than calling me volatile, like maybe suggesting that this happened because of my coverage of Arab demonstrations, which were soon ended in Boston after the torture of the Canadian Jaoudat Abouzza and the forced departure of Jordanian Amer Jubran, (who, incidentally, claimed to have caught and returned my now infamous cassette.) Thanks Dave, for taking the time to post your thoughts. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have been privileged assisted Mr. Goodman’s broadcast recording activities on at least two occasion.) -Freeman Z
By Freeman Z on 12/15/2006 at 8:36:08
Sound off
Thanks to Freeman for assisting me on those occasions when I needed recording help! I won't get into a tug-of-war over the volatility issues. I just think Mike Miliard (or his editor) should have checked in with some of the other non-commercial radio journalists in town. I do feel called to address Jeff's assertion that the harrasment and arrest he suffered were politically motivated. He cites his coverage of pro-Palestinian demonstrations as context. I am about as sure that I can be that Officers Harer and Riel absolutely had no idea who Jeff was or knowledge of his past activities. Citing testimony from Harer saying he doesn't support that day's cause is irrelevant to the political question. I have been covering many of the same protests and issues as Jeff (including recording and photographing authorities at the periphery of the story) and have never come close to being arrested. In fact, I would love to find a police officer (or state legislator for that matter) who has ever listened to my show or Pacifica Radio or read the Indymedia website. I think more attention should be given to the journalists killed in Oaxaca, Mexico or those arrested and detained in NYC during the 2004 Republican Presidential Convention. Anyway, thanks for the dialogue. Respectfully, Dave Goodman
By Dave Goodman on 12/15/2006 at 10:31:09
Sound off
I am so happy that the Phoenix decided to publish this story. It is a very important one. Freeman Z has been covering and supporting the anti-war and other progressive movements for a long time and it has been heart breaking to see how he has been made to pay for his commitment. Thanks for getting the word out and also placing his story in a good context.
By Susan McLucas on 12/15/2006 at 11:27:47
Sound off
I would rather spend time talking to Freeman Z than all the "stars" in Hollywood. The work that he does is actually attendant to what is happening for the vast majority, whereas the work that so many celebrities do in America is alien to the actual human needs of the million of people in the working class. Do we really need people spending zillions of dollars on perfecting their appearance and making the less affluent members of society (the majority) feel like they are somehow not as important? In my opinion, NO! Hell no. On the other hand, do we need people like Freeman Z to stand up and give the less affluent members of society inspiration and hope that they have a voice, they have power , and they can challenge/stand up to the dominant ideology? Yes! In my opinion, the example that he is setting is not based on a pseudo-reality that is totally alien to and unattainable by the vast majority of society (which is what the affluent do when they spew out their illusions that if anybody in America just works hard enough they too can look like a moviestar and have all the loot that goes along with the "good life"). Freeman Z is setting an example that is based on the reality of the environment that most of us are living in. We feel oppressed, exploited, disenfranchized, and voiceless. But Freeman Z is showing those of us who aren't particularly valued in this society that we are powerful. It reminds me of what Celie said in The Color Purple when Albert told her " Who you think you is? Look at you. Your black, your poor, your ugly, your a woman, your nothing at all! " She responded " I'm poor, black, I may even be ugly, but dear God I'm here, I'm here! " Like Celie, we are here and there's no shutting us up. We have a voice and we are also the majority so when we do fully realize our power, the ruling class is going to have a rude awakening.
By seftiboos on 12/16/2006 at 10:41:02
Sound off
Our Sunday morning program "Truth and Justice Radio" (6-10am on WZBC 90.3FM) is one place where from time to time you can hear some of Freeman Z's meticulous, conscientious audio recordings of significant political events. TJR's producers are very pleased to see this well-deserved public recognition of Freeman Z's work. The frosting on the cake is The Phoenix's own research into the police and anti-accountability establishment's darkly motivated treatment of so-called "wiretapping." THANK YOU!
By Stan (producer on 12/16/2006 at 2:19:49
Sound off
As a former reporter and Civil Rights lawyer I am sending out emails to Mr. Miliard about an almost identical case in New Hampshire involving Mike Gannon, whom I interviewed. In today's blawg entry I compare the two (ridiculous) cases: // As a law-based video podcaster, I document abuses as well, including those of Boston's American Tower Corp., who just admitted deceit and paid back $15M in ill-gotten backdated securities: // And now we are making Nashua reconsider First Amendment Rights in a School Board venue: // I had a one year suspension after I upset some folks in Ohio, but I think it's time to get back into the practice. Viva the Fourth Estate. Peace.
By Christopher King on 12/27/2006 at 6:10:31
Sound off
Thanks to the Phoenix for investigating and publishing this story. I too know Freeman Z, and appreciate him as an intelligent person, artist, and scrappy fighter. When words of law and "evidence" can be manipulated and people put away almost at will, we need people who will fight intelligently for our freedoms, however tied to their own life their cause may be. Aren't we all motivated and shaped by where we come from, what we've been through, and who we've known, anyway? What someone wrote here about making the powerless powerful, I agree...I believe that God sees and remembers everyone, and to Him, everyone is valuable. Whatever you have done for the least of these...whoever fights for the oppressed and the defenseless will have God in his side. Happy New Year and many blessings for everyone. Andy Pratt, author and musician.
By andy pratt on 12/30/2006 at 2:56:29
Sound off
Bravo!, Jeff Manzelli. Bravo! Mike Milliard for writing and The Phoenix for printing this excellent profile of a true free man---a vanishing breed in America. We're on the road to fascism here. Citizens, guard your rights with guts, like Jeff Manzelli
By Somervillein on 09/16/2007 at 10:16:56
Sound off
The comments above included these gems: "We're on the road to fascism here. Citizens, guard your rights with guts, like Jeff Manzelli" "Freeman Z has been covering and supporting the anti-war and other progressive movements for a long time and it has been heart breaking to see how he has been made to pay for his commitment. Thanks for getting the word out and also placing his story in a good context." Progressive, you say? Good context, you say? I'll give you good context: // "As Lowney’s trial was set to begin in early November, the arresting officer began to receive vulgar and threatening voice messages at his home phone number. Other law enforcement officials received similar calls, as did the president of Boston University, who on Nov. 7 received on his office voice mail a number of messages in which the caller stated, "I’m on your ass, buddy. You people are [expletive] fascist. Fascist should be [expletive] slit in the throat. Do you understand what I am saying to you? You are a [expletive] fascist." "In a subsequent message, the same caller identified himself as JEFFREY D. MANZELLI (D.O.B. 6/2/63) and provided a contact phone number. That information led authorities to summons the 44-year-old Medford resident to Brighton District Court, where he was arraigned Nov. 29 on three counts of witness intimidation. Manzelli was represented by attorney Terrance Stone and is expected to return to court on Jan. 11." Now, this was not only criminal on the part of Mr. Manzelli -- it was also plain dumb, stupid, moronic. As for Amer Jubran, who is mentioned by Manzelli, "Arab demonstrations, which were soon ended in Boston after the torture of the Canadian Jaoudat Abouzza and the forced departure of Jordanian Amer Jubran, (who, incidentally, claimed to have caught and returned my now infamous cassette.)" Jubran is a thug, who wrapped himself in a Palestinian flag. Pete Lowney and his insane buddy David Rolde are just imbeciles who get a kick of wrapping themselves in the Palestinian flag. But Jubran is a real thug -- he attacked and physically assaulted Jews at Jewish events, was arrested for it a number of times, and was finally deported on grounds of an illegal fictitious marriage so as to be able to reside in the U.S. Al Capone was convicted of tax evasion, you know. Whatever works, I say, just as long as we have such scum either in jail, or out of the country. Google is your friend -- check the sources first.
By Seva Brodsky on 12/09/2007 at 10:10:03

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