“Real” Journalism (Update)

Carlos Miller, who has been perhaps the most important chronicler and advocate for filming and photographing police, was arrested (for the second third time) in Miami for not being sufficiently obsequious to the cops.  And for the second time, he beat the rap

The prosecutor’s summation in the case offers a valuable insight into the problem.

The most telling part of my trial yesterday, besides the continuous lies under oath by Miami-Dade Police Major Nancy Perez, was when a frattish looking prosecutor fresh out of law school named Ari Pregen tried to explain to jurors how a “real journalist” was supposed to act.

A real journalist, he explained, was supposed to follow police orders without a second thought. A real journalist would never back talk to police. A real journalist would never question a direct police order as to why he was not allowed to stand on a public sidewalk.

No doubt Assistant State Attorney Ari Pregan, 2010 St. Thomas Law grad  admitted to practice in Florida on November 30, 2011, is sufficiently brilliant to opine on how real journalists are supposed to behave. And he made his argument plain: Real journalists do what they’re told.

Fortunately, Carlos’ lawyer, Santiago Lavandera, offered a different perspective on how “real” journalists behave:

“In this country, when you’re a journalist, your job is to investigate.

Not to be led by your hand where the police want you to see, so they can hide what they don’t want you to see.

No, when you’re a journalist, a real journalist, it’s your job to go find the truth. As long as you are acting within the law as Mr. Miller was, you have the right to demand and say, ‘no, I’m not moving, I have the right to be here. This is a public sidewalk, I have the right to be here.’

He did his job. He has the right to do his job the way he sees fit. It’s not up to these prosecutors to tell anybody, much less an independent journalist, how to do their job. It’s not up to the police officers, it’s not up to a judge or the president.

In this country, journalists do their job the way they see fit.

What’s he describing is Cuba. What he’s describing is a communist country. The government says you can’t be here because I say you can’t be here.

And it’s infuriating to me that a prosecutor would try to get up here and try to convince you that just because a police officer says something, that he has to bow his head and walk away.

That is a disgrace to the Constitution of this country.”

The jury preferred this version of real journalist behavior. Sometimes, they get it right. But ironically, if we’re to judge by what “scholars” have to say on the subject, Lavandera got it wrong and Pregan got it right.

Alex Myers was a journalism student at SUNY Oswego, He learned the hard way.

The student at the center of the latest storm is Alex Myers, an exchange student from Australia who worked as an intern in SUNY Oswego’s Office of Public Affairs (OPA). Myers was also enrolled in an advanced-level course in SUNY Oswego’s journalism department. For one of his class assignments, Myers was given the task of writing a feature on a public figure. Myers chose SUNY Oswego men’s hockey coach Ed Gosek,

In an email to Cornell University hockey coach Michael Schafer, soliciting comment about Gosek, he included the line, “Be as forthcoming as you like, what you say about Mr Gosek does not have to be positive.”  Schafer responded that this line was “offensive,” and so the nightmare began.

The next evening, Myers received a hand-delivered letter from SUNY Oswego President Deborah Stanley, informing him that he was being placed on interim suspension, effective at 6:00 p.m. October 19, and that he would have to vacate his dorm room by that time. The letter also banned him from all campus facilities and informed him that he may be subject to arrest if he came on campus. 

Why, you wonder?  Because the solicitation of an honest response, even if not positive, is not something real journalists do.

Among the behaviors that merit this charge are “harassment,” “intimidation,” “threats,” “conduct which inhibits the peace or safety of members of the College community,” and “retaliation, harassment or coercion.” The charges further stated that:

Specifically: Campus network resources may not be used to defame, harass, intimidate, or threaten another individual or group.

When no one was looking, honest became a a horrible crime in academia, and this is what is being taught to real journalists.  No wonder Ari Pregan’s understanding of how real journalists behave was so, well, constrained. He’s fresh off the campus himself, and has a far better sense of the cultural phenomenon pervading academia criminalizing negativity, whether in the form of speech codes or anti-bullying laws.

Say anything less than fuzzy to a recent grad and they will cry and lash out. This includes journalism students and law students as well.  And don’t even ask about their professors, who can’t a discouraging word.

Carlos was fortunate that his jury preferred the idea of a real journalist being someone who challenged the authority of government.  Whether he would be acquitted with a jury ten years from now, when all our delicate teacups educated to believe that anyone who doesn’t abide authority or has the audacity to utter a negative word, is another matter.

Update: In sharp contrast the prevailing disdain of academics toward free speech, Howard Wasserman has an outstanding post at  Concurring Opinions reflecting at least one scholar’s view that free speech still matters. Well done.

21 comments on ““Real” Journalism (Update)

  1. fyi

    Also, this was Florida, which is known for being an open government state. There is more support for journalism in those states. it’s not just the laws, but the culture in open-government states.

    NE corridor is the worst cluster for suppression of journalism, secrecy and obedience. Old states/original colonies in the NE are the toughest.

  2. Alex Bunin

    Excellent post. The brave journalists are attacked and the establishment and academia are cowed, or worse, join the attack.

  3. SHG

    If people aren’t persuaded/cowed to submit to authority, then the politically correct education will do the trick. It scares the hell out of me that the Academy is more concerned with creating a world where no one’s self-esteem is bruised than teaching people to think, and speak, freely.

  4. ShelbyC

    Digging through FIRE’s documents, it sounds like the email was misleading to the point of being dishonest. Myers made it sound like he was soliciting commentary for the public affairs office, when he was really doing for an assignment for journalism class.

  5. SHG

    While it was less than clear, it was a red herring. He said he was writing a story about the coach, and so he was. While he could have been clearer about it being a journalism class assignment, it was barely material, if at all.

  6. ShelbyC

    Since he was being charged with dishonesty, it’s hard to see how the dishonesty in his email was a read herring.

  7. SHG

    It’s quite easy to see from a legal perspective. It may be harder from a lay view, but then, this isn’t written for the lowest common denominator. Had the email not been “offensive,” there would be no issue as to the inaccuracy of his not saying that he was writing the article for a journalism course. No one would have cared.

    This is stacking, adding dubious “crimes” on top of the offense that gives rise to the dispute. Does it matter whether an article is being written for the New York Times or the Washington Post? When he wrote that he was with the OPA, it was true. That it suggested he was writing for the OPA, rather than for a journalism course, it was inaccurate, but not dishonest. He never said otherwise. 

    But the question is, if he had accurately explained that he was writing an article for a journalism course, would that have made his request for comment, regardless of whether it was positive, any more or less offensive? If not, then it’s not material.

    I realize this is a bit nuanced, but it’s also tangential to the issue of the offensiveness of his saying that the comments didn’t have to be positive. So now that we’ve gone way off topic, and belabored an obvious point because of your difficulty grasping the materiality concept, perhaps we can focus on the subject of the post rather than the limitations of your personal comprehension?

  8. Bruce Coulson

    From what I can gather, Myers asked a question. His question does not appear to be of the ‘when did you stop beating your wife?’ variety; he was asking for information about a third party. Schafer was free to answer, to provide only positive comments, or even to fire back ‘Who are you really, and why are you asking these questions?’ I assume that Schafer is a functional adult in society, and is capable of answering or not answering questions; he is not a robot, forced to answer any question put to him, with his only recourse to whine about how ‘offended’ he was at being asked questions.

  9. SHG

    Exactly. What concerns me is that I truly can’t fathom what was offensive about the question to begin with.

  10. fyi

    Look, Simple dude, you’re a lawyer, not a journalist. Like a lot of lawyers, you think you know everything.

    There’s nothing insane about it. In open government states the populations tend to be less convinced of police perfection and authority, or any government authority. That’s a fact.

    This is a classic example of a case where a jury in an open-government state might be more sympathetic, on the whole. I am generalizing. I am musing about it.

    It doesn’t surprise me that a jury in Florida would go for the defense argument.

    I am not “insane,” but you are an insulting asshole and you just lost a reader. I don’t care if that was supposed to be yet another harmless sarcastic ribbing. Yeah, right.

  11. fri

    “lay view, but then, this isn’t written for the lowest common denominator”

    Oh, being a layman, a non-lawyer, is now synonymous with “the lowest common denominator.”

    You’re truly cracked, and a loser, and have been swallowed whole by your vocation.

    Glad you supposedly give a crap about journalsits — I guess — but good luck – adios – tired of reading this.

  12. fyi

    There are many brave journalists we never even hear about. Not all, but most, ironically, can not get their voices heard when they are shut down. The story of what is happening to individual journalists in this country is one of the number one censored stories right now. It is under-documented and reported. We are living in a very bad time for journalism overall.

    For all the really great upsides to new online journalism, still, with so many of the essentials eviscerated, it is true to say this is the worst era for journalism in American history.

    People do not realize fully enough what danger this is to democracy, how much democracy relies on a free press. It’s more important to have a robust press than it is to have lawyers, by far. Lawyers are not even necessary to democracy.

    The suicide rate is rising for journalists and many fine journalists are being smeared and discredited for sticking their necks out. Journalists are not known for sticking by each other. This is surprising to many who would think otherwise, that we would be like activists and band together when under threat but we are the opposite. Every unified effort on close inspection, is usually pretty precarious and miraculous.

    I don’t know how to tell you this, but Carlos Miller is one of the lucky ones and he is luckier than you want to know he is so lucky. He was rescued from an abyss about which I hope he knows nothing.

  13. SHG

    Ahem. I’m Simple dude. The person who commented that you’re insane (which I doubt was either meant or qualified as a diagnosis) is someone else. If you’re going to jump on a soapbox and level blame, at least pick the right target.

    Just so you know, I didn’t respond to your comment because I had no clue what you were trying to say or what qualified an anonymous commenter to offer a wholly unexplained claim as to the nature of Florida’s government or jury. But since it was otherwise benign, I saw no reason not to allow your comment to post and, if anyone thought otherwise, to respond. Someone did, and ruffled your feathers. Bummer.

  14. SHG

    When it comes to following legal concepts like materiality, being a lawyer makes a difference (most of the time, though not always). There are non-lawyers who comment here and demonstrate a firm grasp of both legal and logical reasoning, but this is a law blog, written for readers who are knowledgeable about the law. It is not written for non-lawyers who feel unconstrained by logical reasoning or who indulge in emotional or fallacious argument. If the anticipation of a certain level of legal comprehension is inherent in the content, then yes, those who have difficulty understanding it are the lowest common denominator.

    You don’t have to like it, and you don’t have to read it. It wasn’t written to please you.

  15. fyi

    Oh. I see. The Sh in his name threw me. I thought it was your handle.

    And your point about my anonymity is well taken. Where do I get off anonymously addressing Sgt. Schultz, a well known guard in a German POW camp? He has the guts to speak publicly while I hide behind a lame handle.

    When oh when are they adding “lawyer” to the DSM?

  16. SHG

    He has thrown a borderline psychotic hissy fit because he didn’t receive the adoration demanded of a certain ignorant narcissist. Now, you’ve threatened to stop reading numerous times, and left a dozen new comments since. Your only concern is about yourself, and you’ve added nothing to the discussion.

    So, since you won’t leave on your own, you will now be banned from commenting. Start a blog, express your brilliance and lambaste me and lawyers all night long. But you’ve wasted too much of my bandwidth and patience already. Good bye.

  17. fyi

    I agree. You are supposedly a working attorney and you are brokering arguments between a fictional television character and fyi, who is developing a dislike for you and threatens to leave then renegs.

  18. SHG

    Or Sgt. Schultz is a person named Schultz and a Sgt., but since you are only aware of the television character, you assume that your limited knowledge controls. In any event, you’re still here, still wasting my time and still think the things you dislike matter to anyone but you. Seriously, go reneg elsewhere where you will feel more appreciated.

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