More on Miller’s Bodyguards and the Press (Video)

Salon has video of the aftermath of the Hopfinger handcuffing. Plus: if we remove the partisan labels and just assess what happened, would we view this situation differently?

Salon has some video:  Video: Joe Miller’s guards strong-arm the press.

A couple of things are noteworthy:

1.  The guards make a lot of threats as if they have a great deal of authority, yet they clearly don’t have as much authority as they claim.  Despite telling a reporter from the Anchorage Daily News “If you don’t leave right now, I’m gonna put you in handcuffs too” they fail to follow through on the threat—perhaps because a police officer was present at that point.  Indeed, it is difficult to use the “we have the right to detain you until the police arrive” once the police are on the scene.  These guards are clearly just trying to intimidate the press from doing their jobs.  They don’t want more coverage of the situation so they threaten and they try to block the cameras.  This isn’t exactly democracy in action.

2.  In regards to said police officer, if the reporters in question were actually trespassing/behaving illegally, one would think that he would have said something.  Instead he continues to take Hopfinger’s statement and even looks a bit bemused by the whole at the 6:20ish mark.

The bottom line off all this is this:  it should be unacceptable for the private security guards of a politician to handcuff a reporter (even an annoying one) because the politician doesn’t want to answer a legitimate question.  That should be an obvious, nonpartisan position about which we can all agree.  And yet, as the comments on my previous post (as well as any number of posts on the subject elsewhere) on this subject demonstrates, clearly many people’s first (and continued) reaction is to figure out which letter is after the candidate’s name and defend accordingly.

Seriously:  take out the names and parties and just make it a generic anecdote:  a reporter tenaciously tries to get a candidate to answer a question about actions undertaken when said candidate was a public employee and instead of answering the question the candidate’s bodyguards handcuff the reporter and call the police.  Unless the reporter in question was getting truly violent,* where in the world is the justification for such actions and should not the benefit of the doubt go to the reporter?

Freedom of the press is one of the five freedoms in the First Amendment and is a foundational freedom for democratic governance.**  Indeed, it is a key means of holding candidates and politicians accountable.  As such, the use of force against a reporter should be considered problematic and should trump partisanship.

Indeed, one would like to think that certain behaviors should automatically cause us to rise above our partisan preferences and really wonder about a candidate’s behavior, rather than just thinking about whatever preferences we may have in the given electoral contest.   Things like dressing like a member of the Wafen SS fall into such a category, I would argue, as does having one’s bodyguards detain a journalist for the primary reason that he was annoying the candidate by asking questions said candidate did not want to answer.  I think that our*** generic inability to rise above the partisanship of the moment is a major problems in our politics.  It should not always be about scoring points.

And yes, I am certain there are plenty of other example of such behavior from partisans of both parties–this just happens to be the one drawing my attention at the moment.

*One can attempt to parse the issue of whether Hopfinger shoved one of the guards or not and accuse him of assault.  Clearly the guard got up in Hopfginer’s face (just what the video and one can easily extrapolate what happened) and may have made contact first.  Most people might have pushed back at that point.  The notion that Hopfinger was actually a threat that required force is a dubious proposition and there are not, to my knowledge, any witnesses who have stated otherwise save perhaps the guards themselves who are obviously willing to exaggerate their claims (again, see the video).

**And I am not, per se, arguing that Hopfinger’s First Amendment rights were violated (unless he is prosecuted).  Rather, I am underscoring the foundational issues at the root of the situation.

***By “our” I mean the public in general, even if there are clearly specific exceptions.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2010, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Personally I have to wonder why a campaign needs a private security force. Shouldn’t those guys go back to being mall cops or something?

  2. john personna says:

    Just add Miller to the list of Tea Party shark jumpers and move on.

    JUNEAU, Alaska — Alaska U.S. Senate hopeful Joe Miller said Monday he will no longer answer reporters’ questions about his background and personal life, following what he called a leak of his personnel record from when he served as a government attorney.

  3. DC Loser says:

    Ja. Since Miller is so enthralled with the East Germans, he may want to take a page out of Walter Ulbricht’ book and, to paraphrase Bertolt Brecht, “dissolve the people and elect another one,” if the current electorate doesn’t do what he wants.

  4. Elvis Elvisberg says:

    “the use of force against a reporter should be considered problematic and should trump partisanship.”

    Yeah, well, you’d think the same about committing torture, or misleading the public and and legislature into an unnecessary, incompetently prosecuted invasion of a faraway country. That ship has sailed.

  5. anjin-san says:

    > Personally I have to wonder why a campaign needs a private security force. Shouldn’t those guys go back to being mall cops or something?

    Could not agree more. This is BS, regardless of arguments about private events an rented/public property. A strong free press is in all of our interests. If a Democratic candidate had pulled this, they could kiss my support goodbye.

  6. mantis says:

    Where did all of the Miller security force defenders go? Maybe the video linked in this post made them think twice.

  7. Max Lybbert says:

    > Where did all of the Miller security force defenders go?

    I can’t talk for other “security force defenders,” but I can say that as I follow Professor Taylor’s other blog, and only read articles posted here after he mentions them there, I just found this article today.

    > Maybe the video linked in this post made them think twice.

    Again, I can’t talk for other “security force defenders,” but in my previous comments I worked hard to NOT actually defend the security force in this particular situation because I’m savvy enough to know that I didn’t know all the facts and I didn’t trust anybody to have an unbiased history of things.

    My previous comments were limited to the question of whether it’s possible to trespass at a public rally on public property. And I still believe it IS possible to do so. Whether that is what happened in this instance is a different question that I made sure not to answer without additional information.

  8. @Max:

    I concur that it is possible, as a matter of general discussion, to trespass on public property. My question here though is whether trespass is a legitimate charge in the context of a public event held on public property. But, even more to the point (and I think that this is the crux of the matter): exactly what kind of authority would the private security forces have in this context to declare that reporters were “trespassing”–and I think that this video, as I think you not, gives one pause for thought on that count. Indeed, it looks to me like the guards like to state that one is trespassing even if they themselves know that the allegation is, in fact, tenuous at best.

  9. Max Lybbert says:

    My question here though is whether trespass is a legitimate charge in the context of a public event held on public property.

    My previous comments were meant to discuss that question. Well, “legitimate” in the sense of “legally possible” not in the sense of “good idea.”

    But, even more to the point (and I think that this is the crux of the matter): exactly what kind of authority would the private security forces have in this context to declare that reporters were “trespassing”–and I think that this video … gives one pause for thought on that count

    I worked hard to confine my remarks to the general question, not the specific case. The general question is “what kind of authority do any private security guards have to hold anybody without becoming liable for kidnapping and false imprisonment?” They clearly have some authority to do so, c.f. mall security guards. But since I’m not clear about the limits of that authority and not knowing the details of this specific case (because I didn’t trust any account to be unbiased) I wasn’t going to walk into that minefield. Therefore I intentionally kept clear of the specific question.

    Several people commenting here don’t appear capable of discussing this question outside of the specific instance. I can respect that, but I’m under no obligation to join in at that level.

    Indeed, it looks to me like the guards like to state that one is trespassing even if they themselves know that the allegation is, in fact, tenuous at best.

    Yes. Not surprisingly, there are also cases of police officers making tenuous statements and using those statements to justify similar actions ( http://gizmodo.com/5553765/are-cameras-the-new-guns ). There are cases of Secret Service, or FBI, or NSA, or DEA, or other government-paid peace officers doing the same thing. The legal ability to do something (say, hold somebody suspected of a crime) is often ripe for abuse. Trying to balance that against the alternative (the requirement to always let people suspected of crime free) is a difficult problem. The only lesson I can take home from this is “if I ever need to hire a security outfit, I can’t rely on the fact that they are trained, likely State licensed, liable for their actions, bonded, familiar with the limits of their authority, etc. to guarantee that they won’t do anything that will be held against me, as if I personally told them to abuse their authority.”