Snitches get Pulitzers

Snitches get Pulitzers

Journalists document social movements solely to advance their careers, but their work often helps the police and employers target people who take direct action

Seemingly out of nowhere, for those of us on the outside, a fight against racism at the University of Missouri rapidly spread from a hunger strike, to a football player strike, to a walkout by the faculty. This has culminated in the resignation of the president of the school as well as the chancellor.

Many of the people who have taken these actions have risked their positions as students and staff and therefore have something to lose by their participation. Some may have even broken the law by occupying public spaces. Certainly, some will fear being targeted in the future, after the media blitz has died down and the new school leadership tries to put everything back to “normal.”

These rapid developments mean that the media has suddenly swarmed this campus looking to report the story, so there is a need to protect people taking these risks from being targeted for their participation. One result has been that journalists are sometimes limited by activists from photographing people who do not want to be photographed, or from simply harassing them. The consequence of these actions was documented in a series of videos, one in particular showing a group of students refusing to allow a photographer access to a tent city on campus, even locking arms and chanting “hey hey, ho ho, reporters have got to go!”

The outrage at this assault on the First Amendment–we are told–was swift. Josh Greenman, an editor at New York Daily News, tweeted that “Without media, no attention. No attention, no pressure. No pressure, no victory. (Also, this is just wrong.)” One might think from Greenman that it was journalists who risked their jobs to fight racism, and not the students and faculty. Another dismissive commenter was Freddie deBoer, a well known critic of “call out culture” and “trigger warnings” and anything that might reflect on students as seeming to be too sensitive of racism and sexism. He tweeted one of the videos and added “I’m thrilled these protesters got the president to resign, but this isn’t cool.” Since the area restricted from the media was called a “No media safe space,” it must have immediately raised deBoer’s ire, who probably saw the incident as an organized trigger warning carried out by a mob and not an occupation of public space contending with the administration over who rules the campus. It is an honest mistake for somebody who is absolutely clueless about these things.

With the hand wringing over the First Amendment and the cries of political correctness run amok, it would sound like the students at Missouri have fallen off the deep end and completely lost focus of what their movement is about. In fact, the exact opposite is true. The restrictions on the media and the willingness to enforce them represent a relatively advanced level of organization and consciousness beyond mere symbolic protest. The people wringing their hands over the First Amendment simply want the students to hold up signs opposing racism. These people can only view direct action through their narrow ideological spectrum. To them, politics is about winning over the media with friendly messages, not disrupting the status quo and shutting down schools and workplaces. They have never risked anything to be a part of a potentially dangerous struggle and they cannot even begin to understand the problems raised by these type of actions.

There is plenty of precedent for these concerns about the media. The Occupy movement in some places was notorious for having a hostile relationship with the media, precisely because of the heightened risk of arrest involved in occupying public space. There are numerous examples of people who had their picture taken doing something possibly illegal and then found it used against them in court or fired from their jobs. Additionally, there is already one professor at the University of Missouri in the video who has come under increased scrutiny and has resigned one position and may face further repercussions. The problem is not the she was too overzealous in protecting students. The problem is that in her zeal, she and others did not recognize that the real threat was another video camera. She is being harassed and targeted for attempting to help keep other people from being similarly harassed and targeted. Not a single journalist in the US will recognize the irony as they are too busy complaining about how their rights are being infringed.

More drastically, the recent rebellions against police murdering Black people have seen precisely these consequences faced by the participants. The most iconic photograph from Ferguson, Missouri, depicts an African-American man wearing a US flag shirt while throwing a tear gas canister, presumably at the police. This image, among others, won the photographer a Pulitzer prize, the most coveted award for journalism in the US. Meanwhile, a year after this photo was taken, the person throwing the canister was charged with interfering with a police officer, a charge which would not have occurred without the photo as evidence

A similar case occurred in Baltimore where a young man was photographed on top of a police car while smashing the window. With this evidence, he was charged with eight criminal counts and given $500,000 bail. The photo was taken by a photographer with Agence France-Presse and widely distributed throughout the media.

In short, journalists who arrive to document historic social movements do so at the peril of the people who are making it. Any struggle that engages in tactics that are disruptive or potentially illegal–not to mention in some cases extremely illegal–will be wise to take a skeptical view of what the media are doing and strategize to keep them from harming people.

Journalists and their liberal supporters are often horrified at these supposed assaults on their rights, while doing nothing to support the people who are put in jail by police with evidence they sell and use to pad their resumes. Journalists arrive solely to advance their careers and will happily use and abuse the sacrifices of people in a movement to do so. Restricting their ability to get people arrested and fired is a necessary part of an anti-repression strategy for any direct action movement.

Posted By

Scott Jay
Nov 11 2015 05:19

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Rob Ray
Nov 11 2015 10:36
Quote:
Journalists document social movements solely to advance their careers

You want a dustpan to go with that sweeping statement?

Jacques Roux
Nov 11 2015 11:37
Rob Ray wrote:
Quote:
Journalists document social movements solely to advance their careers

You want a dustpan to go with that sweeping statement?

Yeah, I am sure there is an interesting article somewhere in here but that is a ridiculous statement, care to revise it?

Cooked
Nov 11 2015 12:34
Jacques Roux wrote:
Rob Ray wrote:
Quote:
Journalists document social movements solely to advance their careers

You want a dustpan to go with that sweeping statement?

Yeah, I am sure there is an interesting article somewhere in here but that is a ridiculous statement, care to revise it?

Under capitalism you work for money right? Very few journalists would make the same priorities and go about their business exactly the same way if it wasn't wagework.

Perhaps there are lucky people but most journalists have to run their ideas past the editor or get their jobs assigned from the same. Perhaps solely should be replaced by mainly but that's a niggle really? Aren't journalists deluding themselves if they are thinking that attempting to keep their job isn't shaping their work to a tremendous degree.

Of course there are idealistic aspects to the work and people are drawn to journalism mainly due to these aspects. But that doesn't change the underlying fact of wagework. This includes the future prospect of wagework for people doing work for free.

Rewriting the above qoute as follows perhaps clarifies without really changing the meaning:
"Journalists document social movements because they are, and because they want to continue to be, journalists"

To avoid anyone thinking this applies only to journalists feel free to swap out the jobtitle and work above for any one you fancy.

Rob Ray
Nov 11 2015 13:42
Quote:
Journalists document social movements because they are, and because they want to continue to be, journalists

Still too sweeping I think. Some journalists are sent to document social movements and are well under the thumb, some talk their editors into letting them do so (eg. you find an interesting angle), and others work freelance (eg. Guy Smallman, whose many years of protest photography have never led to the arrest of a single protester afaik) because they want to remain independent. How those stories are then interpreted, written up and laid out is also in part, sometime wholly, down to the journalist's discretion depending on the outlet.

I'd not offer up a photo that'd get someone arrested under any circumstances and am happy to anonymise for example and lots of people are similar, but clearly you won't hear much about cases where no-one's implicated in the photography cos there's no problem in the first place.

There's always tensions between what you want as a reporter and what the newsdesk and the editor and the publisher want - the key bit is to realise where those tensions lie and make allowances, factoring in how the journalist has acted in the past.

radicalgraffiti
Nov 11 2015 13:48

its not accurate, but its probably wise to assume that all journalists are hostile, at least until you have good evidence otherwise.

Rob Ray
Nov 11 2015 14:07
Quote:
Its probably wise to assume that all journalists are hostile

Leading to decent folks getting battered for the sake of deterring the ones who aren't? What about tourists with cameras should we treating them as hostile too? You might have to, because the obvious conclusion for sketchy journalists will be to simply pretend not to be journalists.

I'm not saying don't be wary as hell and avoid photography of stuff going down that puts people in the firing line, but there's a difference between advisable caution and blanket siege mentalities, the latter of which actively undermines a large part of why people protest and ruck in the first place - to get the issue noticed.

Jim
Nov 11 2015 14:04
radicalgraffiti wrote:
its not accurate, but its probably wise to assume that all journalists are hostile, at least until you have good evidence otherwise.

Journalists should assume all activists are fucking morons at least until they get good evidence otherwise.

Joseph Kay
Nov 11 2015 14:12

I don't see why journalists have some special entitlement to enter occupied spaces? If people are doing things that could get them sacked/suspened/arrested, then yes they're going to be wary about being filmed/photographed doing it. And if you can't understand and respect that, you're clearly not a journalist deserving their trust.

Joseph Kay
Nov 11 2015 14:15

Of course in keeping with the vapid 'censorious students' meme, this is the story, and not the credible death threats and rallies/roving pickup mobs chanting "white power".

Jim
Nov 11 2015 14:17

I don't think being a journalist gives you any special rights. But if you set up a space and say 'no media' you're going to get undercover journalists infiltrating the space and potentially exposing people. I can remember of a journalist infiltrating the WOMBLES for the Evening Standard(?) years ago and writing some slightly damaging articles. More recently a journalist infiltrated a party at an occupation at Goldsmiths and wrote an unfavourable article, I'm not aware of any consequences from that though. In most cases it's probably better off trying to be pragmatic and working with journalists, just issuing a blanket 'no media' policy isn't going to achieve much.

Rob Ray
Nov 11 2015 14:22
Quote:
I don't see why journalists have some special entitlement to enter occupied spaces?

Who does? Is there a special register of protesters? Other than the one maintained by Met undercovers I mean.

Quote:
if you can't understand and respect that, you're clearly not a journalist deserving their trust.

Well yeah again, that's a matter of judging the person on their actions rather than their job title.

Joseph Kay
Nov 11 2015 14:24

Sure, 'no cameras' would make more sense. But if you're trying to get paid off other peoples' struggles, and claim to do so as a sympathiser, then sympathise.

Jim
Nov 11 2015 14:26

Ultimately it comes down to power and organisation. If people in an occupied space have the power to control access and are organised enough to screen who's entering, they can effectively enforce a no media policy. If they're not organised enough and can't control access they're going to struggle.

Chilli Sauce
Nov 11 2015 14:27

I don't know if I have much to add, but that line Rob Ray quoted in the first response really jumped out at me, too - which is a shame because the wider article is really good.

Of course, lots of journalists are scumbuckets and we shouldn't trust any journalist until we have reason to. But lots of journalists aren't - including some libcom posters and, I don't know, people like Karl Marx.

I mean, what profession doesn't prop up capitalism in some way? That doesn't mean all who do it are ideologically committed to capitalism and/or incapable of taking subversive action in their of work.

Good on the article, btw, for pointing out the bullshit of the "no media, no result" line of argumentation. It's amazing that the douche-bags clammering to get into occupied/activist spaced don't make the same free speech arguments about not being allowed into corporate boardrooms.

Jim
Nov 11 2015 14:30
Joseph Kay wrote:
Sure, 'no cameras' would make more sense. But if you're trying to get paid off other peoples' struggles, and claim to do so as a sympathiser, then sympathise.

Most journalists who claim to sympathise with struggles they're reporting on, at least in the UK, regularly do things to provide support. There are journalists who blur faces in photographs of actions, people who have fought police production orders for footage and photographs. I can even think of several journalists who are aware of things they could easily report on but don't out of solidarity. Obviously that doesn't apply to all journalists or even all journalists who report on struggles.

radicalgraffiti
Nov 11 2015 14:32
Rob Ray wrote:
Quote:
Its probably wise to assume that all journalists are hostile

Leading to decent folks getting battered for the sake of deterring the ones who aren't?

yes those are the options, beat up all journalists or let them all do whatever they want, if you suspect someone has conflicting interests from yours you have to beat them up immediately, thats the rules

Rob Ray
Nov 11 2015 14:37

You're talking about forcible exclusion in a context of seeing all journalists as active hostiles, what do you think is going to happen? As the OP hints at, snitches get...

Scott Jay
Nov 11 2015 14:52

Journalists, tourists, live streamers even your fellow revolutionaries. I've seen people get prosecuted for video evidence created, with good intention, by their best friend. People with good intentions need to be warned about how dangerous it is to distribute videos and photos online, because most of them don't know.

Rob Ray
Nov 11 2015 14:56

True dat.

Cooked
Nov 11 2015 15:41

Lots of journalists have sympathies with demos. Plenty are great people (I have people close that are journos) but does their individual stance and attitude matter that much? Even if you get a very supportive article through it isn't necessarily a good thing.

Besides the obvious risks Scott Jay mentiones in the post above I'd say it's questionable if you want to be mediated by an outsider today. Short term you're probably more likely to win that particular issue but you've ceded to the politics - media - pr circus. Most opponents are very sensitive to media pressure but if you're winning without the media I'd say shut em out! (sorry to all journos close to me)

Chilli Sauce
Nov 11 2015 16:11

Good post Cooked.

Scott Jay wrote:
Journalists, tourists, live streamers even your fellow revolutionaries. I've seen people get prosecuted for video evidence created, with good intention, by their best friend. People with good intentions need to be warned about how dangerous it is to distribute videos and photos online, because most of them don't know.

So this is also definitely true. On the other hand, this is quite a different stance from the line in the article that kicked off this whole discussion...

Jim
Nov 11 2015 16:48

Scott is spot on with the points about video/photographic evidence and as they say this applies to anybody filming videos/taking pictures, it doesn't apply to all journalists though.

Cooked also makes a good point about people thinking winning a struggle is about winning the PR battle. As London's tube drivers show what wins struggles is your ability to disrupt business as usual, not how many sympathetic column inches you get.

Scott Jay
Nov 11 2015 17:37

Yeah, the difference between a journalist and your friend is, your friend isn't getting paid to publish photos of you breaking the law, so they might be easier to convince to be responsible about their actions.

Sike
Nov 11 2015 18:12

Journalists, or not, with all of the cameras around these days it is probably a good idea to just assume that whatever your doing at a protest is being filmed at some point and time. If you really feel the need not to be identified then you really need to cover up your face and not have any clothing or accessories that can be traced back to you. Depending upon the situation a hat and sunglasses might be enough, but in certain situations were being identified might cause your expulsion from school, or worse, then you might need to cover up most of your face.

As for journalists, sure a lot of them are pricks, but not all of them, and many are sympathetic to those protesting social injustices. This said, there is a good case to be made for not relying on even sympathetic journalists to not make bad choices that could end up getting folks in trouble with the authorities, and as others pointed out there is no reason to treat journalists as if they are a special case. There may be times when journalists and their recording devices do indeed need to be excluded. In any case the truly sympathetic journalist will be cooperative voluntarily and will stop recording if asked, the ones who aren't, fuck em.

Khawaga
Nov 11 2015 19:40

Great article, reminds me a situation during the anti-EU protests in Gothenburg in 2001. We had been kettled by the police and photographers were running in and out of the kettle to get their pics, which made a lot of people quite jumpy; due to the tense situation many people wanted to flee because at the same time the police were going in and out of the kettle to arrest whoever they wanted. Hard to tell who's who in such a situation. Those fucking photographers actually put us at risk, because if anyone got so jumpy they wanted to flee it would mean that we'd all get a kicking. We asked the journalists to leave, they countered with "don't you want this to be documented etc." (fuck that, I'd rather not take a beating and not landing in jail if I could avoid it). The weird situation arose where we the kettle collectively asked the police to not let the photojournalists inside the kettle, but to remain outside. The police actually enforced our decision. And it made everyone calm down, including the police. Nobody got a beating, and while some were arrested most of us were let go after 5-6 hours.

Joseph Kay
Nov 11 2015 23:05
jojo
Nov 13 2015 01:47
The Washington Post wrote:
Further, as reporters, we have to drop our sense of entitlement and understand that not everyone wants to be subjects of our journalism. Our press passes don’t give us the license to bully ourselves into any and all spaces where our presence is not appreciated.

This is a quote from the understanding article referenced by Joseph Kay above.

Jason Cortez
Nov 15 2015 10:41

Excellent article by Starr

Steven.
Nov 15 2015 10:54
Sike wrote:
Journalists, or not, with all of the cameras around these days it is probably a good idea to just assume that whatever your doing at a protest is being filmed at some point and time. If you really feel the need not to be identified then you really need to cover up your face and not have any clothing or accessories that can be traced back to you. Depending upon the situation a hat and sunglasses might be enough, but in certain situations were being identified might cause your expulsion from school, or worse, then you might need to cover up most of your face.

I think this is the main point. With the ubiquity of CCTV, not to mention fellow participants and observers of events filming everything on their phones and uploading them to YouTube, the proportionate number of photos and video footage recorded by journalists has shrunk to a tiny minority of all photos/footage.

So getting filmed and photographed is unavoidable: so the onus is on participants of events/actions to safeguard their identity if necessary. Which is fair enough could include excluding journalists from certain spaces (which is nothing new: who has ever let journalists into union meetings?).

In terms of the slagging off of journalists, I get where people are coming from but really I don't see the point. Especially with photojournalists. They have captured some truly amazing things over the years, things which have inspired me and I'm sure many of us. What would we think now if there were no photos of that man stopping a tank in Tiananmen Square, or if there was no video footage of the police hosing American civil rights protesters, or if there were no photos of the self managed industry in revolutionary Spain?

On a personal level, journalists have been very helpful in some workplace campaigns I've been involved in, and I'm sure the same or go for others. Of course in general journalism supports capital and the status quo (like every industry) but that doesn't mean a blanket approach is helpful.