When covering the news, journalists try their best to stay out of the headlines. Their job is to report the news, not be a part of it.
But just days into protests over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, viewers watched on live television as a CNN reporter and two crewmen were arrested while covering the breaking story and led away in handcuffs.
As the weekend wore on, reports surfaced of many other reporters and photographers being denied their right or even attacked while covering stories.
On Saturday, readers were horrified by reports of a photojournalist in Minneapolis being shot by a police projectile that permanently blinded her in one eye.
In another instance, police slapped a phone from a photographer as she streamed the scene live on USA TODAY.
Police chased a reporter for the Detroit Free Press as he was withdrawing from an area of confrontation. Just as he lifted his media badge to identify himself he got hit with pepper spray in the face.
As the protests enter a second week, police officers have not stopped targeting journalists with tear gas, non-lethal rubber pellets, and arrests, even when they clearly identify themselves as members of the press.
What does this seemingly heightened abuse of the power of the press mean?
Of course, reporters and photographers understand the inherent risks of covering live events. They know to back away from the action while reporting, recording, or interviewing as news breaks around them. And if they are pepper sprayed as part of a larger crowd, they wash their eyes out and get back to work.
But during the recent days of protests, reporters have found themselves fighting for their right to even do their jobs — to be on the frontline of breaking news to bring the story to readers and viewers. Dozens of reports have surfaced of police singling reporters out in a crowd and attacking them or preventing their access to breaking action.
It has journalists and media observers concerned. Many are demanding action.
In Phoenix, for example, when police sent a warning to journalists that reporters could be arrested along with those they were covering, media outlets led by the Arizona Republic fought back in the name of freedom of the press, and received an apology. In Minneapolis, the CNN crew that was arrested was released and the Minnesota governor apologized.
But what does this recent treatment of the fourth estate say about America’s perception of the media? The free nation’s president has called journalists “the enemy of the people,” labeled reports from reputable outlets as “fake news,” and even signed an executive order targeting social media companies, days after Twitter called two of his tweets “potentially misleading” and “glorifying violence” when he threatened to release the dogs and have protesters shot.
To get some answers and perspective, Local Profile spoke with Andrew Rossow, a young attorney and media journalist who co-founded Grit Daily News, a New York-based news outlet that speaks to Gen-Z and millennials. He says the media’s First Amendment right to Freedom of the Press is now at question to its very core. Repercussions will set a precedent moving forward. And it’s time, he says, for the media and lawyers to unite because reporting accurate news is more essential now than ever.
Local Profile: What do the events in Minneapolis concerning the arrest of reporters say about the importance of reporting accurate news?
Andrew Rossow: First and foremost, the events in Minneapolis have shown what only most of us lawyers have read about in law textbooks: actual censorship, which is when a government acts to suppress protected speech. On Friday, what we all saw was what world news looked like from a police state—in this case, the State of Minnesota.
Back in 2014, behavior like this revealed itself in Ferguson, Missouri, where two journalists were similarly arrested for recording the arrest of and gruesome murder of Michael Brown.
What we have just horrifically watched again, is what happens when an institution in which society has supposedly placed its utmost trust, faith, and loyalty in, abuses its power and gets caught.
Friday’s events involving CNN reporter Omar Jimenez, was a blatant disregard for the very freedom our media has been afforded since the U.S. Constitution was signed, raising the need for even more attention turned to Minnesota’s state of affairs.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects our right to many things, including “freedom of the press,” or the ability for media to communicate and express ideas and news…freely, without restriction. That was just destroyed on national television on Friday.
In every moral, ethical, and social level, the treatment that the Minneapolis Police Department inflicted on Mr. Jimenez and the rest of the CNN crew was not just a slap in the face to the network, but to every viewer watching. Additionally, it was a bastardization of the very functionality of law enforcement.
Today’s age in digital journalism has been more focused, unfortunately, on the “attractive” nature of a story, that in recent years, it has birthed a beast that has forever corrupted the way our generation thinks—“fake news.”
As the events in Minneapolis have continued to unfold, the world turns to media. But, if you look at let’s say ABC, FOX, CBS, CNN, The New York Times, USA Today, and the like—you will undoubtedly find the same “breaking news” being reported with one major difference—the very substance of the story. Some facts are emphasized more than others, while other pieces of what could be deemed “crucial” information, is left out entirely.
The media has forgotten that it is up to the viewer to come up with their thoughts on a story. It is the job of a reporter to simply recant an event, no matter how “attractive” it may (may not) be.
LP: What do the media and lawyers need to do to unite in a time where “fake news” and “biased news” are at the center of discussion?
AR: I heavily invest in a principle I came up with four years ago when I chose to put on a journalist hat, while also wearing my lawyer cap—“The 4 R’s of a Lawyer-Journalist Relationship”
#1 – Recognition: For the lawyer-journalist to succeed, the first step is recognizing the roles that both parties play.
Both employ a similar skill set: communication, keen research, investigatory skills, an acumen for detail, and an on-going quest for the truth. However, I believe the reason the lawyer-journalist relationship has deteriorated almost entirely in recent years is because of the inability for both parties to agree on a stringent standard for what is accepted as the “truth.”
The ability to properly communicate to your client and/or story subject dictates how the relationship proceeds from there. By listening to hear, rather than listening to react and respond, you would be amazed at the perspective you may learn or gain simply by empathizing with what they are saying.
We are missing that ability to communicate and provide truth. Both lawyers and journalists have the ability and power to shift paradigms, destigmatize viewers, and to promote positive change through compassion and truth. But we just are not seeing enough of it. Through the power of the pen, we both wield the power to be heard.
Whereas a journalist has the power to report on issues that are trending, misunderstood, or underreported, making the world aware. Journalists also have the power to advocate and defend the underrepresented, bringing light to adversity and injustice.
#2 – Rebirth: Once this power is recognized, we choose to be reborn. As a lawyer, it is not our job to be the judge, jury, and executioner for our client’s predicament. Rather, it is our job to find the best way to bring to light the issues that truly matter, while accepting that there are consequences for every action.
As a journalist, it is our job to relay what is happening all around us in a way that speaks to our targeted viewer every single time you start typing out that story or get on air to report your latest segment. It is not our job to determine how best to “get a rise” out of the viewer—there is enough stress out in the world, why on earth would you want to incite panic, discomfort, and confusion?
Each day, when we find ourselves in this moment, we are reborn. We are one with the world, and the world is one with us.
#3 – Rehabilitation: You now have a choice on whether to embrace this rebirth and use this power as a force for good or as a force for chaos and destruction.
As a journalist choosing the very words I use in a title and body of a story sets the stage for how my story, my message, my recanting is received by readers. It does not matter if they don’t agree with my personal beliefs (because that shouldn’t come into a news piece; that’s where proper labeling and “opinion” tags are required).
Gandhi once declared: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” In the world of law and media, this can make a huge difference.
#4 – Reform: With how social media continues to shape our culture today, it is very easy to enact reform and be noticed for it. Rather than word of mouth, the power of a “tweet,” “retweet”, and live-video sharing can take the smallest of ideas and turn them into the most powerful, by the power of a click.
At the end of the day, the relationship is fueled by the desire to share an “accurate” story that will help generate proper awareness, support, and/or sympathy throughout the public, which allows the public to ask whether or not that information being put out there is strong enough to warrant positive change.
In recent years since the concept of “fake news” has continued to take form, the public has lost the abilities to (1) question the world around them and (2) think for themselves. The reason being that media coverage today in 2020 is primarily (and ironically or is it?) biased news coverage with no truth to it. This is evident with how the arrest and murder of George Floyd and the Minnesota protests have been covered across media outlets.
LP: Can you please explain how the arrest incidence in Minneapolis brings into focus the media’s First Amendment right to Freedom of the Press along with the Fourth Amendment’s illegal seizure.
AR: You would think this to be a hypothetical essay question on a Bar Exam. Perhaps we can expect to see this on Minnesota’s in the future?
What we saw Friday on live national television was (1) an illegal restriction on the media’s ability to accurately report events unfolding, in real-time, for purposes of state and national security, and (2) an illegal seizure of two individuals, who happened to be media journalists and photographers reporting the story in real-time, live, on-air.
Under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, CNN, along with every other news and media outlet, had the absolute and constitutional right to be present on-scene and reporting and recording news surrounding the arrest and murder of George Floyd by law enforcement. While CNN’s obvious and evident respect to cooperate with law enforcement and providing “space,” could be seen and heard on camera, the very moment that officers said they couldn’t be there and then decided to, while on camera, place Mr. Jimerez under arrest (and actually handcuffing him) was a clear violation of this historically constitutional principle, which is in effect, every day.
Under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, we as U.S. citizens have the right to be free from “unreasonable searches and seizures,” without probable cause. However, seizures do not just apply to physical items on a person or in a place—but they also apply to a person.
On Friday, the moment law enforcement placed handcuffs on Mr. Jimenez and his photographer, both individuals were considered to be “seized” under the 4th Amendment—meaning, their freedom of movement was immediately taken away, so as for both parties to reasonably believe they could not walk away from the encounter with law enforcement. This was solidified when law enforcement walked both crew members away from the scene and into the police cruiser.
LP: What do recent instances over the weekend of journalists being tear gassed and shot with rubber pellets say about treatment of the media?
AR: Are we a society consumed by so much hatred for our fellow man, that now it seems to be acceptable for state actors (law enforcement) to be able to assault journalists? Because that’s exactly what it is.
Not only is the Minnesota State Police showing the world that it’s okay to violate fundamental constitutional principles, but that it is now okay to simultaneously assault journalists and the public. Because that’s what is happening.
With recent news that Minneapolis police and sheriff’s deputies began firing off tear gas indiscriminately into the streets, while immediately following up with aimlessly firing rubber pellets at journalists and the public, the State has lost it’s absolute godda** mind. And I don’t want to hear that it’s COVID-19 and the coronavirus pandemic. This is unfortunately the crux of what our society is built on—power and an abuse of it.
When did it be okay for law enforcement to be the judge, jury, and executioner not only against the people it swore to protect, but against the media who has an oath to accurately report news that impacts constituents and the rest of the world?
LP: Can you offer some tips for journalists?
AR: As a journalist, I urge all my colleagues to not back down—that nobody can restrict our right to report on and distribute stories to the world. That our news should not be manufactured around fear and panic. Our world has become united in the fight against COVID-19, but our individual society couldn’t be more disassociated and lost when it comes to fundamental human rights and evidently our constitutional rights.
#1 Never compromise your integrity for the quality of a story. It is never okay to manufacture a story which includes purposely leaving out details or information that would affect the reader and viewer’s ability to formulate their own opinion as to the effect of that story. Do not give your audience a reason to question your veracity—which includes legal news reporting. This is a major reason for the strained lawyer-journalist relationship.
#2 Never allow anybody to restrict your freedom to report on and deliver accurate news.
#3 Understand that your job is to deliver the news in a manner that is designed to accurately communicate the message to your audience. It may not always be the most positive or joyful news, but you must make the most of the situation, bury your personal feelings (unless it’s an opinion piece), and ask yourself what you would want to know if you were on the other side of the screen.
At the end of the day, always make sure to cooperate with local ordinances and law enforcement on where to stand/conduct your story. You still can report, but your distance may be restricted. And if you feel that you are being assaulted in similar instances we’ve bore witness to, find a way to record it and terminate the encounter. Responding with similar behavior won’t help you.
LP: What repercussions and response to this matter will set a precedent moving forward?
AR: I am 100% confident that this is only the beginning for the legal ramifications following Friday’s events.
First and foremost, it is silly to think that the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) will not get involved—as I predict this case will find its way through the legal system to the top. And personally, I believe it should. This cannot go unaddressed, while still expecting lawyers to rightfully advocate for their clients (and society to not hold government officials accountable).
Second, I predict that the world of media and law enforcement as we previously knew are now completely destroyed. This event just called into question two of our most fundamental constitutional rights that helps keep our society balanced and free—we just watched both rights destroyed on live national television by Minnesota’s state government.
From the public’s perspective, I predict that riots and protests will continue for some time until something is done about this on a global scale—in this case, the State of Minnesota and its government being held accountable in every way for what transpired, which includes bringing in the power of the legal system.
From a legal perspective, I believe this is the start of our Constitution beginning to become digitized and adapted to today’s digital, modern age. Since the early 2000s, technology has begun to test the ink that was written on our Founding Father’s agreement—and until Friday, the world has done nothing to try and adapt it to today’s digital age.
No more can we stand willfully ignorant. Our laws are about to catch up.
LP: What should attorneys, young and old, and the media learn from this?
AR: Ethics. Ethics drives attorneys to be the very best advocate for their client (ignoring his or her own personal feelings on the matter), just as ethical writing helps keep a journalist’s piece organic, accurate, and informative.
The time is now for the lawyer-media relationship to be recognized, reborn, rehabilitated, and reformed. Lawyers should not fear the media, while the media should respect lawyers in the same way it respects its own mission of gathering as much information to relay an accurate story to share.
The relationship is symbiotic in the 21st century—Journalists are taught to be ethical, neutral, and accurate; lawyers are taught to be ethical, zealous, and detail-oriented.
We must respect one another, because we are on the same team—advocating and defending our constitutional freedom against those who strive to see it destroyed.
Andrew Rossow is a technology attorney and co-founder to Grit Daily News, a New York-based news outlet that speaks to Gen-Z and millennials. He assists clients in minimizing instances of poor digital hygiene and cases where they find themselves victimized by crimes committed on social media and other virtual platforms. He has written for many news outlets, including Forbes, HuffPost, Bloomberg Law, ABA For Law Students, AbovetheLaw, Law360, CoinTelegraph, and more. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.