Handcuff reporting: how journalists navigate protests

New York City Police Confront an Associated Press photographer during a protest. (AP)

NOTE: This story is part of “Together / Alone,” a column by Spectrum News Chief National Political Reporter Josh Robin that explores life in these times.

Christine MacDonald is an investigative journalist for the Detroit News. If she had her way, she would highlight the evictions that were about to be unleashed on vulnerable Michigan residents as a result of the economic collapse caused by the corona virus.

But the collapse of her own industry meant she was on the news on Sunday evening. And there was enough. She put on a gas mask, put on a string for a press pass, and started Facebook live to show the world how Detroit reacted to George Floyd’s death while in police custody in Minneapolis.

That was when MacDonald got handcuffed.

Police detained 44-year-old MacDonald following the city’s curfew, even though journalists are usually given the space to report as long as they follow the police warrant. You can listen to the clicks of the cuffs on the Facebook feed just as MacDonald identifies himself with the officer.

Not long after, she was released when colleagues intervened. In a way, she was lucky to be held only briefly. Her colleagues were chased, caught and shot with rubber bullets, even while “we were on the way where they wanted to go, holding up our press passes and shouting” media. “Detroit Free-Press reporter David Jesse wrote on social media.

The Detroit mayor later apologized, saying the city is working on assigning references that are more visible.

It is currently uncomfortable to write about the press; I would rather see attention being paid to what can be done to bridge the gap between the police and those who should protect and serve them. I think we should also ask ourselves how reporters can be protected and trusted at this crucial time.

What happened to reporters in Detroit was not an isolated case. The US Press Freedom Tracker says after documenting 100 to 150 violations of press freedom in the US in the past three years, it is now investigating over 200 in recent days. There is an ongoing count herefrom Des Moines to Louisville to Pittsburgh to D.C.

Kirstin McCudden, the editor-in-chief, says that about 80 percent of reported attacks have been done by police. Protesters are also said to have attacked and threatened the press. Early Saturday in Washington, a group set out Fox News reporter Leland Vittert and a team early on Saturday in Washington, DC. “We hit hard,” he told the AP.

And protesters likely across the spectrum who supported President Trump threatened local Long Island, New York TV reporter Kevin Vesey last month. He was live at a demonstration against Governor Andrew Cuomo’s rules that companies had to temporarily shut down doors to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Then, without saying much, the protesters turned against him. He was yelled at (“you are the enemy of the people!”), Turned around and followed by people who were not wearing masks (“no, I have hydroxychloroquine, I’m fine,” someone told him.)

The organizer of the protest later apologized, the hecklers called “idiots” – but someone else with more power than anyone cheered on them. More on that later.

I would be tempted to write these incidents down to the fog that inherently surrounds the protests, which were particularly fluid over the weekend and sometimes turned violent.

But it is also a time of diminished confidence. Our credibility has fallen sharply, especially among Republicans. We must do everything possible to address that.

The emergence of social media has also given us room not only for competitive views and shared knitting videos, but also for a vast, largely unregulated ecosystem of competitive realities accelerated by algorithms that power the division.

Frankly, I don’t even remember what people see as a “reporter” when anyone can tell the world everything with fingers and a phone.

In the middle, media companies such as Facebook and Google have helped vent newspaper editors to half the level as 2008, according to the Pew Research Center, and that was before the last economic collapse. MacDonald, the Detroit News reporter and her Detroit News colleagues work only three out of four weeks on vacation; they had 300 employees in 2000. There are now about 90.

So can I draw a straight line from police and protesters targeting journalists to an industry skinned by new media, in a world where the facts are relative?


But I would fail if I didn’t introduce it as a background.

Then there is President Trump’s Twitter, full of allegations of “fake news” and “enemy of the people” about reporters.

Remember when Long Island reporter was tormented by the people he covered?

President Trump found out and retweeted Vesey to his 80 million followers, adding that the protesters were “great people” and, although they certainly referred to Vesey, “fake news is not essential.”

The President’s compliments to those who attacked Vesey have been retweeted tens of thousands of times.

McCudden says, “In the month of May, President Donald Trump tweeted ‘Enemy of the People’ five times over the media. The last one was this Saturday, May 30. We are following reports from at least 40 journalists who were reported the same day by both police and the protesters have been attacked. “

“What the commander-in-chief says about the media affects the way people deal with it,” McCudden added.

Of course, before the president took office, the police assaulted the press, including during the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri.

The White House has not responded to a request for comment.

Again, I will not draw a direct line from the President’s Twitter, to alternative facts, to newsrooms that are a shell of what they used to be, to reporters screaming that they are a member of the press still being arrested and crudified by the police .

Instead, I leave it with MacDonald, that reporter on the streets of Detroit.

“The vast majority of journalists I know are just doing their best,” she told me. “The people I know work for them [expletive] from.”


The first amendment. Sorry, a little heavy-handed, but reading it makes me feel better: “Congress will not make a law that respects or prohibits the free exercise of a religious institution; or shortening of freedom of expression or the media; or the people’s right to assemble peacefully and to request government compensation. ‘


Fresh air. If possible, I propose candid conversations about what is happening in the world. I also recommend an accompanying screenless enclosure where there is a tree, a blade of grass and a glimpse into the sky (preferably, but not necessarily blue). It hurts my heart to young people whose summer experiences are being canceled this year, and all the more grateful for a quiet moment to live with my children.