Shooting the messenger



Police and the press always have had a tenuous relationship defined by co-dependency: the police need the press to get their message out, and the press need the police because much of what they do is news. That relationship was severely damaged, if not shattered, watching the press under direct police fire trying to cover riots across the country last weekend.

A Des Moines Register reporter retreating from the Merle Hay Mall parking lot Monday evening was tear gassed and then arrested for failure to disperse, cuffed and taken in the paddy wagon to the station for booking. At the scene she identified herself as “press.” It didn’t matter. Time was when the cop would shoo off the reporter and arrest the guy with the Molotov cocktail.

This was not an isolated case. On Friday morning, a black CNN journalist was arrested during a live broadcast in Minneapolis. Later that day, we watched live as Ali Velshi on MSNBC was broadcasting from a basically empty street with a camera crew. The police shot tear gas down the street and Velshi was hit in the leg by a rubber bullet. This was a clearly labeled national news crew. WCCO photographer Tom Aviles was shot by police in Minneapolis. Reporters from the Los Angeles Times were tear-gassed, police shot out the car window of Minneapolis StarTribune reporter, and freelance photographer Linda Tirado of Minneapolis lost an eye to a rubber bullet. There were many other incidents across the country.

In the recent past, police viewed reporters as annoyances or distractions during emergencies. They would tell you to get outside the perimeter or you might get arrested or hurt. No more. Now clearly identified press outfits are coming under direct attack from police, and from protestors. Protestors tried to rush the CNN building in Atlanta, repelled by police. In Washington, DC, protesters attacked a Fox News crew.

President Trump has been calling the press an “enemy of the people.” He tweeted it again over the weekend.

Under fire for their treatment of blacks, police in some cities like Minneapolis (and not Storm Lake, fortunately) treat the press like the enemy. Ali Velshi is a well-known and respected journalist. The reporters and photographers from the StarTribune are among the best in the business. They know when to back off, and they know what risks to take to get the photo. What they didn’t know is that they have targets on them by members of a police union that is on the same brain wavelength as Trump.

The press has an important job protected by the US Constitution: To report the news without interference from the government. Despite the tear gas, Velshi kept reporting as he retreated. The intimidation will not stop the media from holding the police accountable for how they use their extraordinary power. If anything, this will make it worse for police. It was a simple cellphone video taken by a bystander, after all, that indicted the Minneapolis police. Lobbing tear gas at the press won‘t change that fact.

It was especially disappointing that a journalist was arrested in Des Moines after being tear gassed along with a KCCI TV crew. We cannot recall a similar incident in Iowa. None of this violence against the public will do anything to quell the outrage or repair damage to the image of police. This is the sort of strong-arm behavior that had people rioting in the first place. The only thing that the reporter could threaten the Des Moines police with is a cellphone and the truth. Later, Des Moines police kneeled with protestors so somebody could take a picture. No apologies necessary.

We deserve better

It’s June, and we still don’t know where Storm Lake stands with the COVID-19 case count. We are told that there has been a delay in processing test results for Tyson workers. We cannot find out how many cases are in nursing homes (except for Methodist Manor, which tells us that all their residents tested negative). This disease was spotted in January. The threat of pandemics has been an urgent, public warning since at least 2005 — entire books were written on it. We need widespread testing with fast results — now. We understand that the University of Iowa has such a testing regimen. Of course, we are not using it. Instead, we let a no-bid contract for $26 million to a Utah company. And we still don’t really know where the virus stands. We are among the hottest spots in America. We deserve better.

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