Friday, November 18th, 2011

The Banks and New York City and the Media

I have had an NYPD-issued press pass twice. In New York City, the press is "credentialed" by the police department, independently of the City, at its discretion. The process is slow and you have to go downtown for quite a while. Both times I have been very careful to play their game. You have to bring published clips, among their required materials, that prove you need to deal with things like "robbery scenes, fires, homicides, train wrecks, bombings, plane crashes, where there are established police or fire lines at the scene." Now I'm by no means a real reporter's reporter, but I succeeded both times by bringing past stories that had, like, scenery of Hillary Clinton in a St. Patrick's Day parade and what have you. On my most recent successful trip, I went with real reporters—and some of them got denied, and most definitely shouldn't have been, while by working the system, I scored. The point that you'd need to be already doing that reporting to get credentialed (by the police!) to do that reporting is a good one. All this is a preamble to pointing out that yesterday we got used by the mayor's office.

In the spirit of looking at what the media is, we talked about positions held by reporters who've been arrested around the country at Occupy Wall Street. I started doing this because I had a suspicion that some media trends were probably evident: were they all interns? Were they all unpaid? Freelancers? All men? Who were they?

The most notable things (to me) that we found were that a majority were non-staff reporters, they were from a wide cross-section of outfits (independent outlets, news wires, student papers) and that one staff reporter had already been laid off since his on-the-job arrest.

I tried to be pretty careful that this wasn't to suggest that any of them weren't "real reporters." (One of those arrested in New York (who informed police he was a reporter), Jared Malsin, working for The Local East Village, was even deported from Israel last year for his reporting there.)

Then last night the mayor's spokesman sent out a memo, citing our little exploration, and going further—cross-referencing the arrested reporters with holders of NYPD press passes.

He was doing this to assert that the NYPD wasn't arresting reporters. He wrote: "We found that only five of the 26 arrested reporters actually have valid NYPD-issued press credentials." Which, well, is basically an admission of arresting five NYPD-credentialed reporters? Or he was doing this to assert that they weren't arresting real reporters. Well, we're pretty much all real reporters now.

I don't think the NYPD are monsters; I also don't think Bloomberg's office is evil. Nor are either of these organizations uniform in their thinking about Occupy Wall Street. I even think they're in a tricky position—I don't know how I'd deal with a large protest movement gathering in the City over the course of two months, especially one that's trying to keep a permanent encampment in a park.

But I do think the City itself and even Bloomberg—despite some of his excellent qualities!—brought Occupy Wall Street on themselves. Throughout his unnecessarily extended tenure, he's always been quick to give up income to benefit the banks. He's done nothing truly effective about job creation, despite his small programs for helping startups and entrepreneurs, and the small creation of affordable housing. For example, everyone knew that Goldman Sachs' "threat" to move to midtown was a bluff; they would never pay those rates, and that the state and the City went nuts on concessions for their new headquarters is still a crime. (Particularly when Goldman spit in their faces at the same time, moving more of their headcount to New Jersey anyway.)

The banks and New York City have always been intimately entwined throughout their history—probably, in the past, in far more unseemly ways than they are now. New York needs the finance industry; it is, obviously, a major "engine," as they like to say, of the City's micro-economy. But we believe that the finance industry and other related corporate enterprises have created a vast inequity, one that is nowhere more visible than in New York City itself. Here is where they have tortured capitalism into a sick thing that is actively bad for humanity. It's only right that Occupy Wall Street has the name and focus that it does. How the rank and file of both the City and the NYPD deal with our mass nonviolent protests is on them, not us, and certainly not on the people reporting the events of the day.

Photo from New York's Occupy Wall Street protests by Jon Tayler, who is both a Columbia J-School student and a reporter.

34 Comments / Post A Comment

HiredGoons (#603)

last night I made it as far as the Brooklyn Bridge and then turned back and went to an art opening (because I'm a terrible person) but I ended up standing on the street corner next to this lovely woman (name escapes) who is the Independent Democrat for lower Manhattan, and she explained so much to me in terms of the ins and outs of Manhattan politics, affordable housing, bank regulation etc. which I will spare you all recounting in a blog comment… but the long and short is I wish I had a reporter with me to talk to her. It was edifying.

hockeymom (#143)

This is such bullshit (on the part of the city, not you, Choire.)

Reporting is reporting. It's telling people WHAT HAPPENED.
I could send my middle-school kid with his cell-phone and he could file a report.
I could show up with a network photographer, a Peabody, a DuPont and five Emmys and file a report.
And neither one of us would have some crap ass piece of paper from the City of New York.
And both of us would be reporters.

HiredGoons (#603)

@hockeymom: 'Well, we're pretty much all real reporters now.'

hockeymom (#143)

@HiredGoons Exactly. Especially since many of the "real" reporters are…not.

This makes me more sweary than a sweary doll.

Dave Bry (#422)

Clearly, all those non-credentialled fake reporters that we arrested were ILLEGALLY reporting on stuff they had no business reporting on in the first place.

brianvan (#149)

@Dave Bry: And they rode bikes, too!

NFK (#8,747)

@Dave Bry Maybe NYPD is also the journalism quality police. Possible motto: "The arrests will continue until the quality of reporting improves."

Mr. B (#10,093)

Jesus. To be a member of the New Jersey press corps, all you have to do is be employed by a legitimate news outlet. Your bosses mail a piece of paper to the state police, and they mail you back a press pass and parking pass. Mine didn't even have a photo, but it (usually) got me into the Brooklyn Supreme Court reporter's entrance, even federal court come to think of it, unless the court officer on duty wanted to be an ass. But I bet it wouldn't have counted had I been arrested at Zuccotti.

edisdead (#580)

@Mr. B : It used to be this easy in NYC too, actually. In the first newsroom I worked in, we even had a set of "blank" press passes that had been issued by the NYPD to give to cub reporters that didn't have their own passes yet. But that all went away about 6 years ago. I kind of think that with the rise of blogs, the NYPD panicked a little over not understanding which were the "legitimate" press organs to credential. So they doubled the number of clips that they require for a credential, and they started deciding that some clips aren't relevant. DCPI (the NYPD press liaison) also used to set aside whole days for large news organizations, and they'd just issue/renew all the passes we wanted. They don't do that anymore, and it can take more than a year just to get an appointment with them for a new credential.

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)

Admittedly tangential to the main point, but I used walk by the front of Goldman's new building everyday.

One of those concessions the city granted was to allow a special lane off West Street, for the black cars picking up and dropping of GS bankers. As a result, the pedestrian sidewalk veers sharply toward the GS building, allowing room for the black car lane.

Guess what? No pedestrians bother to veer back away from the building to get back to the real sidewalk, to the extent that they now have several traffic safety people and lines of cones where the black-car lane inevitably makes everyone cross Vesey. And it still ain't so safe.

Smart concession, there!

katiebakes (#32)

@SidAndFinancy I HATE THOSE TRAFFIC SAFETY PEOPLE. There's one guy in particular who was basically drunk with authority. I always crossed the street before he blew the whistle. My small way of sticking it to the man. Which man, it's unclear, but definitely THAT man at least.

HiredGoons (#603)

tip: you can get into the Whitney for free if you go in the Press line and when they ask for you credentials just say "well, I live here."

(not joking)

Abe Sauer (#148)

Well, obviously this is the internet's fault.

No, really, IT IS.

Wisconsin is dealing with this exact same thing, minus the hairpulling and the billyclubbing and the delicious mace. Just yesterday, the capitol correspondents board in Madison moved to make the credentialing process for "reporters" in the capitol a hell of a lot harder. Now, obviously, this stinks of a gilded group protecting its access against a flood of new journalists from, in some cases, their blogs.

But also, this was in part a reaction to an activists reporter/blogger who had begun joining in 1st amendment gallery protests and getting arrested in the process and then going back and doing it again and basically not having a whole lot of what used to be called "journalistic objectivity" or "balance" or whatever before those terms became marketing mottos for institutions that did exactly the opposite of those things. Basically, at what point is a reporter not a reporter anymore and is instead a PR person for the goings-on?

During the Madison protests, Capitol occupation, weeks-long sleepovers in the dome, numerous closings, court rulings, challenges, reopening, arrests and closings, I was able to gain access through a very sane capitol press corps gatekeeper named Dick Wheeler (who just died, BTW). But I was there when he was denying other credentials to "reporters." I mean, Choire's right, this is HARD, thanks to the Internet where somebody like myself, say, Christiane Amanpour, and a person from Think Progress who doesn't even post under a real name all see ourselves as equals who should all have the same access and same protections.

hockeymom (#143)

@Abe Sauer Hmmmm. So maybe I should calm down. I didn't think about the activists types. But still, a slippery slope. Think of Hemingway in Spain and WWII. Or, in very different circumstances, George Plimpton. Or heck, even Michael Moore. They were/are all activists in varying degrees and yet, reported truths. Mostly. At the opposite end of the spectrum is James O'Keefe. You are right…this IS hard.

barnhouse (#1,326)

YES. And also, the press credential allows you access behind police and fire lines in order to do e.g. crime reporting but it doesn't give you leave to bust in any old where. What scares me is the capriciousness and inconsistency of police response to these protestors. Policy not keeping up with the facts, as usual.

edisdead (#580)

@Abe Sauer : A Press Pass shouldn't give a person license to act like a jerk-off in any circumstances. And press passes can be revoked for individuals who are being constantly disruptive! The cops can decide at any time that there's no access at all to a crime scene if they think its not safe or if press might contaminate the scene. They do it all the time!

Abe Sauer (#148)

@edisdead sure. but there's a difference b/w a scene the police control access to and one they come upon and are asked to deal with.

edisdead (#580)

@Abe Sauer : Of course there's a difference! But the fact that Stu Loeser – the mayor's press officer! – is so obviously hostile to reporters that he brushes off the arrest and detention of even those with credentials should speak volumes to the situation in NYC.

Abe Sauer (#148)

@edisdead No doubt. What's going on in NYC is clearly a "kill em all and let god sort em out" approach to press freedom.

lawyergay (#220)

This is a very even-keeled take on things, but it's hard to deny the…let's just call it malice aforethought by both the NYPD and the mayor's office that went into the Zucotti Park raid. They war gamed it on Randall's Island, and the goal was always to keep reporters–and in particular reporters with cameras–far away from the scene. (P.S. Helicopters!)

I haven't practiced in a while, but I remember from school and studying for the bar that the 1st Amendment right to assembly is not nearly as clear-cut and inviolable as the Occupy movement seems to think it is, and I say this as someone who wholeheartedly supports what it's doing. Requiring permits to assemble, for instance, is not per se unconstitutional, nor is denial of those permits for public safety reasons.

Anyway, if we can't know the dancer from the dance, then the NYPD and Bloomberg really fucked up with Zucotti and probably do deserve to be called monstrous and evil based on that incident. I'd love to see them redeem themselves.

barnhouse (#1,326)

+1 zillion. Redemption!! I hope so.

BadUncle (#153)

Not directly related, but a thought – there's really only one bank on Wall Street itself (BNY Mellon), and it's not even involved in consumer or commercial banking. Occupiers could get more bank for their buck occupying Times Square.

@BadUncle : And if they occupied Tiananmen Square, they could get more tank for their buck.

Neopythia (#353)

@BadUncle Deutsche Bank is there as well, but yeah Wall Street is more of a virtual thing these days.

Smitros (#5,315)

@BadUncle One also thinks of Battery Park City, where more than a few finance people live.

Daniel Could've (#22,066)

@BadUncle OWS did occupy Times Square with a good couple thousand people. It got very little mention in the press.

Balks Mom (#1,921)

This is petty, but petty can be fun so here goes: Apparently Stu Loeser (THAT NAME!! I AM TWELVE AND GIGGLING MEAN GIRLISHLY!!) chastised Drew Grant for having typos in the piece she ran about his little memo and yet? His memo had a typo. (It should have been The Awl'snot The Awls'.)


Balks Mom (#1,921)

Oh crap, and I'm still logged in as Balk's Mom. Well whatever, like any of you thought for a minute that Balk's mom wasn't a total mean girl.

Look, someone just tell me whether or not we're supposed to be at war with Eastasia.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

@Clarence Rosario We've always been at war with them!

Ralph Haygood (#13,154)

"…even Bloomberg—despite some of his excellent qualities!": Michael "Hosni" Bloomberg has excellent qualities? I had no idea.

I liked the essay but the methods being described reminded me of the old days … the very old days. Journalists were given some special privileges in order to report news, and there was an expectation that the news would be reported. The agenda driven reporting of today has devalued mainstream journalism … made worse by education of journalists so that their reporting seems to be well researched when a lot of it is mere window-dressing and essentially wrong to anyone that knows anything about the subject. Journalism and reporting of numbers is my top pet peeve … so often in the report simply for effect and utterly meaningless. Another peeve is the rewriting of history, and avoiding lessons of history where it is inconvenient. Citizen journalism is starting to change things … it can be excellent for democracy … but watch closely because nobody in power really wants to have true transparency in the society they control. These are exciting times, but the deep reforms needed will not come easily.

leann4deni (#181,401)

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AttackSquirrel (#181,914)

Here's the explanation I got from a well-intentional NYPD white shirt friend. This is offered for context and NYPD perspective. I'm not saying I wholesale subscribe to it:

1. Being a reporter is not a magical promise that they won't arrest you if you violate police orders. A press pass means that they'll give you slightly more leeway, but when a cop says "Everybody get back on the sidewalk," or "Everybody back up," because they think a situation is unsafe, that means everybody, reporters included. For instance here: Whenever the protest walks down a sidewalk, reporters tend to be trying to get outside the crowd into the road to get a shot that includes cops. The cops consider that unsafe. Therefore if you ignore an order to get back on the sidewalk, you may be arrested.

2. The higher credentialling requirements reflect that problem. So many people have blogs, that they don't want infinite people thinking they can ignore police orders. Also, the NYPD does not consider non-neutral parties to be reporters or legal observers. If you are actively taking part in the protest in anyway (holding a sign, yelling things, wearing an affiliated t-shirt), you are protestor, not press. Even if you are wearing a press pass. You can't be both.

3. NYPD has faced massive cuts over the last 5 years, so rookies are being placed in sensitive situations. Rookies are paranoid, they're trained to be. As a sample of how paranoid: Next time you talk to a young cop, watch their body language. Their hand goes to rest on their gun. That's because they're trained in academy that anyone who comes up to them to ask the time or directons may suddenly punch them and grab their gun. Also, a lot of these cops have come from understaffed exceptionally anti-cop precincts. Some precincts in NY are war zones for cops. Think about how young and potentially traumatized these young cops are. It's not an excuse for police brutality, but something to keep in mind.

3. The cops think they're cutting the protestors a lot of slack. They say parading without a permit (50 people on a sidewalk, even single file not blocking traffic) is illegal in NYC. So they think they're entitled to be arresting a lot more people than they are, and aren't inclined to be patient with people who actively disobey orders.

4. The police definition of unsafe situations is not very fact-specific. Are a bunch of people tightly ringed around a cop making an arrest? Unsafe for the both the cop and person under arrest. Is a cop surrounded? Unsafe for the cop. Those definitions apply even if all the people surrounding the cop appear to be unarmed hippies with cameras. When cops, especially paranoid rookies, find themselves in these situations they've been trained to recognize as unsafe, they fix them as quickly as possible(ie. pepper spray, arresting everyone refusing to move).

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