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.