One of the main arguments I’ve heard from critics about my two arrests for photographing cops against their wishes is that I wasn’t photographing anything newsworthy, so I should not have risked getting arrested.
They tell me I should pick my battles and only choose the ones that matter.
The problem is, if you allow the cops to forbid you from taking photos on the small stuff, why you should expect it to get any easier when you have a Pulitzer Prize winning photo opportunity?
The other problem is, by allowing them to intimidate you from taking the photo, you allow them to make the editorial decisions for you.
As a professional journalist who graduated with a degree in journalism and has worked in newsrooms on both coasts, including a few in between, I am capable of making my own judgment on what is newsworthy or not.
And frankly, even if a photo is not particularly newsworthy, the officer still doesn’t have a right to forbid me from taking it as long as I am not interfering with an investigation or otherwise breaking the law.
That should be common sense but it obviously isn’t because cops continually believe their badge gives them an editorial authority over what gets reported.
The issue is highlighted this week by Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Thomas Mitchell:
The everybody-wants-to-be-the-editor phenomenon surfaced again at the funeral of Stan Cooper, the federal courthouse security officer killed during a gun battle with a man upset over the outcome of his court case.
The funeral was in a large church, and the public was invited.
Our reporter Richard Lake arrived early and was in the church talking with officials of the church about the services. Everyone was cooperative.
Lake made the mistake of going outside to talk with our photographer, who was not allowed inside with his equipment. Several reporters from various media were talking to Las Vegas Metropolitan Police public information officer Bill Cassell, and Lake joined the group.
Cassell asked Lake where he had been, and Lake replied he had been inside the church. Cassell told Lake he was not allowed in the church on orders of the U.S. Marshal Service. To which Lake replied he would put away his notebook and pocket his Review-Journal photo identification badge, which was hanging visibly from his belt, and then enter the church like any other member of the public. At this point Cassell said he would have him arrested.
Rather than risk spending the night in jail, Lake returned to the office to watch the televised services while the city desk sent another reporter, without badge showing, to report from inside.
Mitchell first addressed the issue in a column back in November after another incident in which a law enforcement was trying to play editor.
On Monday, a throng of reporters and photographers gathered at Family Court for a child support hearing for Dr. Conrad Murray, whose medical care for the late pop star Michael Jackson has drawn the scrutiny of authorities and the press.
When the hearing was over, Dr. Murray exited, but the journalists in the courtroom were blocked by an armed bailiff, presumably so the celebrity doctor could escape the courthouse without being pestered by those rude members of the Fourth Estate.
Yes, those mob scenes of screaming tabloidistas and scrambling paparazzi are so unseemly, even embarrassing to those of us in the more genteel ranks, but that is no license for the bailiff to play editor