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.