The arrests of reporters in Ferguson, Missouri have sparked outrage, and even a presidential rebuke, but also a goopy spew of point-missing ire at the journalists from the likes of MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough andPolitico‘s Dylan Byers.
Last night, cops in Ferguson arrested The Washington Post‘s Wesley Lowery and Huffington Post‘s Ryan J. Reilly, as well as Alderman Antonio French (D-Ward 21). MSNBC covered the events in Ferguson late into the night, including interviews with Reilly and Lowery, who explained that they were set up at a McDonald’s, working, when tactical cops ordered them out. Both described being arrested and assaulted by police.
Enter Joe Scarborough to completely miss the point, telling his panel that Lowery and Reilly should have packed up their stuff faster and not asked questions. That’s not the really dopey part, though. See if you can pinpoint the dumbest shit that Scarborough says here:
“I wasn’t at that McDonald’s.”
“I don’t know why the police officers were there.”
“We don’t know how long that is. I don’t know why the police were moving them along.”
This is incredibly stupid, because if he bothered to watch any of the reporting on his own network, he would know the answers to all of those questions, and he would know them because these reporters were there. Scarborough seems not to understand what the job of a reporter is, or what the job of a police officer is, for that matter. Any citizen, let alone a journalist, has a right to know why he is being ordered out of a public place, and has the right to videotape police, and has the right not to be falsely arrested and assaulted.
Before I move on to Byers, though, here’s some bonus dumb shit from BBC World News’ Katty Kay:
That’s right, world class journalist Katty Kay sees the assault of two journalists by police officers as a bad PR move. Not a criminal act, not a betrayal of the public’s trust, but just bad optics. And Scarborough thinks the problem in Ferguson is a lack of “subtlety” from the cops, like maybe they should’ve worn earthier flak jackets.
Then, there’s Byers, who wrote a post in which he accused the media of “Losing Perspective in Ferguson,” and comparing the conduct of police with the media’s supposed “overreaction” to the arrests of Lowery and Reilly, whom Byers takes pains to point out “aren’t heroes.” He also noted that the arrests of ordinary protesters wouldn’t have provoked the same sort of outcry as those of the reporters, and decried “the outpouring of praise for the two reporters.”
“[T]he ambition here is to report with clear eyes. Ferguson is not Falluja, and Wesley Lowery and Ryan Reilly aren’t heroes. They’re two reporters who happened to be in the right place at the wrong time. The sooner this story returns to the death of Michael Brown, the standoff between the protesters and the police, and the issue of accountability and justice, the better.”
As Byers notes, Lowery has already responded to Scarborough by essentially reminding him that Lowery and Reilly are there, while Scarborough and Byers are not (an excellent argument for Byers to cram his “lost perspective”), but the point that Byers and Scarborough are missing goes deeper than that. It isn’t just that Lowery and Reilly are there, it’s why they are there, and for whom they are there.
You can debate how well they do it, but every reporter’s primary responsibility is to serve the public, which in this case consists not just of news consumers, but the people of Ferguson, even the police in Ferguson, and especially of the late Michael Brown. Byers is right, the outrage over a violation of a reporter’s First Amendment rights is different than that over an average citizens’, because it is a violation of all citizens’ First Amendment rights. If the police are assaulting and arresting reporters, how exactly does Byers expect this story to “return to the death of Michael Brown, the standoff between the protesters and the police, and the issue of accountability and justice?”
It won’t be by tuning in to Morning Joe or Politico‘s media blog.