Updated Jun 1, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Journalists get caught in the crosshairs as protests unfold

A man waves a Black Lives Matter flag atop the CNN logo during a protest in response to the police killing of George Floyd outside the CNN Center on May 29.

A man waves a Black Lives Matter flag atop the CNN logo outside the CNN Center during a protest in response to the police killing of George Floyd, Atlanta, Georgia, May 29. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

Dozens of journalists across the country tweeted videos Saturday night of themselves and their crews getting arrested, being shot at by police with rubber bullets, targeted with tear gas by authorities or assaulted by protesters.

Driving the news: The violence got so bad over the weekend that on Sunday the Cleveland police said the media was not allowed downtown unless "they are inside their place of business" — drawing ire from news outlets around the country, who argued that such access is a critical part of adequately covering protests.

Why it matters: The incidents show how easy it can be for journalists to become entangled in the stories they cover, especially during a time of civil unrest.

The chaos began Friday night when protests erupted across the country.

  • The live, on-camera arrest of Omar Jimenez, a CNN correspondent based in Chicago and his crew, set off a flurry of press incidents over the weekend. The journalists appeared to be arrested for no apparent reason. They were released an hour later.
  • CNN showed live pictures from behind a line of riot police in the lobby of CNN Center, one of Atlanta's top tourist attractions, as a man with a skateboard bashed in the front window while a crowd cheered and pelted officers with water bottles, smoke grenades and large objects.
  • A reporter from WAVE News, a local station in Louisville, Kentucky, was on-air when police officers shot pepper balls at her. The police eventually apologized.
  • A Fox News crew was harassed and chased out of Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C., covering protests on Friday. Another reporter in Phoenix posted a video of her getting tackled by protesters during a live TV hit.

The situation escalated across the country Saturday with journalists getting arrested. A HuffPost reporter and a CNN commentator were reportedly arrested Saturday night while covering the protests in New York City.

  • New York Attorney General Letitia James tweeted Saturday night her office was looking into Mathias' arrest.
  • A Vice News correspondent tweeted a video showing police in Minneapolis shooting at press (it’s unclear what they are shooting) and then tackling them to the ground, even after the journalists showed them their press credentials.
  • A local radio reporter in Los Angeles tweeted that the LAPD shot her and protestors with rubber bullets, even while she was holding her press badge.

The big picture: The incidents showcase how a hostile environment for the press, made worse by the president's incessant bemoaning of the mainstream media, can make it difficult to cover important moments, like protests.

  • In response to some of the incidents Saturday night, the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, a database of press freedom incidents in the United States, said it was "working to verify and document reports" coming in Saturday around the protests.
  • HuffPost put out a statement saying they were "extremely alarmed" that reporter Chris Mathias .was "taken into NYPD custody while doing his job as a journalist." He was released about 1 a.m.
  • Fox News leadership said in a memo to staff: "We strongly condemn these actions against Fox News Media reporting teams as well as all other reporters from any media outlets who are simply trying to do their jobs and report the news during an extraordinary time in our country’s history."

Be smart: Many of these incidents, because they target the press, were captured live on camera. The footage could help to verify unnecessary police action against journalists.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with the latest crackdowns on journalists.

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