Archive for the ‘First Amendment’ Category

Lifting up and pressing on: Mourning, celebrating The Capital

As survivors related by blood, marriage or ink at The Capital cope with loss and trauma, their community came out Saturday to root for them, on a day made festive by food and music.

On- and off-duty journalists were there, but this was largely a music festival crowd cheering for the press. People paid $25 or $30 to hear Good Charlotte, which has Maryland roots, and more than a half-dozen other bands.

The get-together — organized quickly and expertly by the city — was called Annapolis Rising. It was a benefit to honor The Capital after five of its employees were shot to death in their newsroom on June 28. It also paid tribute to police, fire and EMS agencies that responded almost instantly to the call.

This was a community wrapping its arms around its own a month later, with grief still fierce and fresh. (Read Andrea Chamblee’s raw account in The Washington Post of what happens when a wife finds out her husband has been shot, then is dead, and her mind and heart nosedive.)

Speaking on stage during one of the more somber moments, the children of Wendi Winters — who died after confronting the gunman — said this was an event their mother would have loved and would have been covering.

Chamblee said plainly that her husband, John McNamara, would not have been there. He would have been tired from the grind of covering government and elections.


Andrea Chamblee, talking about her late husband, John McNamara


There were so many moments of sorrow and inspiration on Saturday:

Relatives received a flag flown over the State House a few blocks away. Mayor Gavin Buckley invited people to hug a first responder, then followed his own advice as he gave medals on stage.


Mayor Gavin Buckley (left) before he gives medals to representatives from police, fire and EMS agencies


A heart projected onto the side of a parking garage contained the names of the five victims — John McNamara, Wendi Winters, Rebecca Smith, Rob Hiaasen and Gerald Fischman.


On the parking garage next to the Annapolis Rising stage


After selling more than 2,000 “Press On” Annapolis-themed T-shirts, the creator donated $35,000 to a fund to benefit the victims’ families.


A $35,000 donation from proceeds of the sale of “Press On” T-shirts


Capital reporter Selene San Felice urged people to live the spirit of togetherness for more than a day or a week or a month. Editor Rick Hutzell reminded mourners not to forget about other tragic deaths.


Rick Hutzell (left), editor of The Capital, with his staff and Andrea Chamblee, the widow of John McNamara


Throughout the day, there was a wave of support for journalism at large and the ideals of a free press.

“A town without a newspaper is not a community,” said Lucy Dalglish, the dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park.


Lucy Dalglish


“When you attack a hometown newspaper, you attack the heart of America,” U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes said.


U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes


Comedy Central host Jordan Klepper recalled the branches of his family tree filling different roles at his hometown paper.


Jordan Klepper


Olivier Knox of SiriusXM, the president of the White House Correspondents Association, quoted the confirmation email he received after subscribing to The Capital.


Olivier Knox


Even the politicians who aired ill-timed jabs at the paper (it sometimes gets things wrong; it is sometimes biased) concluded with messages of support.

“Now, journalists don’t do this work for the pay,” Marty Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post, told the crowd. “Rarely does it pay a lot. They don’t do this work for the hours. The hours are awful, disruptive to ordinary life. There’s nothing elite or elitist about their lives.

“They do this work because they believe firmly in all citizens’ right and duty to understand their community and their country, and they want to fill that essential role in civic life. They do it in service of the glorious opportunity granted to us in the Constitution to participate in our democracy.


Marty Baron


“Today, we must do more than reflect on the horror of June 28th and the overwhelming sorrow in losing Rebecca, Wendy, John, Rob and Gerald. This is an occasion to reflect also on what this country’s founders gave future generations. They gave us a precious gift — the right of free expression and the right to a free and independent press, what James Madison called ‘the only effectual guardian of every other right.’

“Today, we remember five people who put those ideals into practice. I hope we will also remember the people who, at The Capital and elsewhere, share those five individuals’ spirit and sense of purpose and who carry on the work they loved. They continue to do work that this community and this country still needs.”

Near the end of the night, the crowd had swelled and was jubilant as Good Charlotte gave its own tribute, rocked for a while and promised to come back every year for a similar celebration.


Good Charlotte, the headline band at Annapolis Rising


For 10 hours, Maryland’s capital city put journalism and the newspaper it knows on a pedestal. What a day.

Anatomy of a reporter’s arrest in Virginia

Why did Shareblue Media reporter Mike Stark get arrested while covering a parade in Fairfax County, Va.? It depends who you ask and what you see and hear on a video.

A video shows much of what happened, although only parts of the conversation are audible:

What else happened? What does the video not show? What led to this confrontation between Stark and the police in the first place?

Col. Edwin C. Roessler Jr., the chief of the Fairfax County, Va., police department, explained the arrest on Tuesday in a press conference broadcast through Facebook live.

He said Stark’s profanity, at a family event, triggered the arrest. (Public profanity is illegal in Fairfax County.)

As video of the arrest shows, shortly after Stark says “Fuck this,” an officer raises his hand, as if to signal to another officer to arrest Stark.

The confrontation up to that point seems to center on whether Stark is getting out of the road, as directed by police. You can see Stark argue, but also step back once, then again, reaching a point that seemed to be off the street. But the argument continued, Stark swore and police arrested him.

I summarized more of Roessler’s comments about the arrest here, including the idea that officers didn’t know Stark as a reporter — just a guy in a hooded sweatshirt.

Roessler said he didn’t see anything improper from his officers in carrying out the arrest, but an internal affairs bureau is investigating because force was used in the arrest.

Did the police need two officers to take Stark down to the ground and six to subdue and monitor him while he was on the ground, with multiple officers on top of him? Roessler said Stark was a “passive resister,” not fighting back, but tensing up and not complying.

Stark said in an interview that he was scared he might be hurt when officers forced him into a fence during the arrest. He also said he was trying to put his cellphone in his pocket, putting him in an awkward position, with his arm pinned, after he was tackled, unable to follow police orders.

“This was violent,” he said of the takedown and arrest, “but it wasn’t brutal.”

Stark was charged with disorderly conduct and fleeing from law enforcement, which are misdemeanors. He is free on $3,000 bail and is due in court on Jan. 16.

‘Cat and mouse’ advocacy journalism

Stark (from Fairfax County Police Department)

Stark talked to SPJ by phone on Wednesday to explain his actions, but also express regret for how he handled his encounter with police. Still, he is optimistic that the charges will be dropped.

First, though, he explained the backstory that got him to that point.

Stark doesn’t hide that he is a partisan reporter without formal training, doing advocacy journalism for Shareblue Media, which says it produces “practical, factual content to delegitimize Trump’s presidency, embolden the opposition, and empower the majority of Americans to fight.”

For several weeks, Stark has been following around Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate in Virginia’s gubernatorial election, which is Tuesday.

In September, Stark paid $150 to attend a Gillespie fundraiser. A week later, he went to a town hall meeting and got to ask Gillespie a pointed question.

Gillespie’s campaign caught on and had Starks removed from the next event.

Stark said he realized he would not get an easy chance to confront Gillespie again. Nonetheless, he followed the candidate around, filming himself calling out questions on a few topics he considered important.

Stark said he became more aggressive with his questioning. “I understand that he’s fleeing the Fourth Estate,” he said, “and that kind of disgusts me.”

He’d wait for Gillespie at one door at an event, only to see the candidate elude him at another door. “It has been a long month of cat and mouse,” Stark said.

So, when Stark heard Gillespie would march in a parade in Annandale, Va., he saw an opportunity.

When he saw Gillespie’s van, Stark said, he needled the campaign staff, some of whom he has gotten to know, that Gillespie was ducking him because his politics are embarrassing.

He said he heard someone tell him to get out of the road and order him not to go near Gillespie, or he’ll be arrested.

“I said, OK, then you’ll have to arrest me,” Stark said. “Which probably was a mistake.”

Stark said he was frustrated over repeatedly being denied access to Gillespie for weeks.

Stark conceded that when an officer first confronted him on Saturday, he said something like, “Why did you come over to me like an asshole?” He said he responded to a warning by saying something along the lines of “I’m a fucking reporter and I’m going to do my job.”

An officer can he heard telling him not to curse again. Stark calls out: “Fuck this.”

In retrospect, Stark said, it’s better to work out a problem with the police instead of being rude and confrontational. He’s annoyed that he finally might have had a chance to question Gillespie if he would have exercised more restraint.

Noting other arrests of reporters — such as one in West Virginia while trying to interview then-Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price — Stark said he wants to stand up for press rights. “It seems like a switch has been flicked,” he said. “I want to flick it back.”

Chest-thumping + ignorance = fake legislating?

Indiana state Rep. Jim Lucas has to know that his bill proposing mandatory licenses for journalists isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

He doesn’t even need to read all of the way through the First Amendment to figure it out. About halfway through is enough.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”

Ah, yes. The relevant freedom.

So, clearly a bill Lucas drafted calling for journalists to be fingerprinted and pay police $75 to get a lifetime journalism license is meaningless rhetoric.

He says he’s steamed about media coverage of his attempt to repeal an Indiana law that requires a permit to carry a handgun, according to a story by the Indianapolis Star.

“If you’re OK licensing my Second Amendment right, what’s wrong with licensing your First Amendment right?” he is quoted as asking.

Lucas can’t pick the constitutional amendments he will follow, ignoring others.

And he isn’t even original in his satire. South Carolina state Rep. Mike Pitts acted out an almost identical attention-seeking charade last year. He called his proposed “responsible journalism registry,” modeled after a concealed weapons permit law, an attempt to stimulate discussion on how the press covers Second Amendment issues, according to a Post and Courier story. Unregistered journalists would be fined.

Journalists could ignore these pranksters, but it’s bad to assume that silliness like this isn’t taken seriously somewhere, so it needs to be addressed. We need to speak up against real and faux attempts to impose arbitrary shackles on constitutionally protected news gathering.

It’s tempting to jab back by calling this #fakelegislating and to suggest that Lucas’s woeful ignorance of the First Amendment would cause him to fail a test for his legislator’s license.

It’s more important, though, to examine the grievance and dissect the motivation.

I encourage Lucas and Pitts to air specific complaints and criticism about journalism they’ve seen. It’s their right to challenge news coverage and present a case if they believe a story is wrong or inaccurate, or if they think a journalist was unethical or ignored context.

I’ll argue for their right to get answers to questions and responses to well-reasoned complaints. That type of accountability is enshrined in the SPJ Code of Ethics.

I have a hunch, though, that logic and debate don’t fit in with their plans for mischief.


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