Reporters Tangle with NYPD, Become Their Own Stories

Police don't always differentiate between them and the protesters

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New York City has one of the highest concentrations of media anywhere in the world, which means that a lot of otherwise run-of-the-mill news events here get magnified by excessive coverage (it's arguable a helicopter crash, while tragic, wouldn't get the level of attention as the one on Tuesday if it had happened in Pittsburg). That's probably the case with the Occupy Wall Street protests to an extent, but as the press descends on downtown to cover the increasingly large and unruly protests, police sometimes don't distinguish between protesters and those covering them. A number of journalists have been roughed up, pepper sprayed, and arrested, most recently on Wednesday night during the movement's biggest protest yet. And with each such incident the journalist covering the story becomes part of it, writing or posting video of his or her own experience and expanding the coverage. Below, we've rounded up some key examples, but if you know of more, please get in touch.

  • Fox New York cameraman Roy Isen got a face full of pepper spray and reporter Dick Brennan was struck by a baton in the melee Wednesday night that led to 28 arrests. According to a Fox staff report, "At one point, Brennan was hit in the abdomen by a police baton and Isen got irritant in his eyes. Both journalists were all right and continued to cover the protests and arrests." Their footage made for its own item in Fox's local coverage of the protest, and got widely circulated on sites such as Gothamist:

One by one, people were systematically turned around, handcuffed and lined up along the bridge behind police lines as the drizzle in the air turned into cold rain. I was herded onto a New York City bus with those arrested at the same time.


There seemed to be some confusion among the police about what to do with us. Our bus was redirected three times from precincts around Lower Manhattan and Midtown, trying to find space to hold and process those on board. One friend, who was taken into a police van, told me his cohort was sent from Crown Heights, Brooklyn, to One Police Plaza. He was not processed until 3 a.m.

Lennard didn't return to join Wednesday's march, she tweeted. "Can't be arrested again on the job!" But her arrest and subsequent account have led or been mentioned in countless stories since the weekend, in outlets as disparate as The Nation, The Guardian, and The Hollywood Reporter.

  • On Sept. 24 John Farley, the web editor for MetroFocus on New York PBS affiliate WNET, was arrested when he tried to interview one of the women pepper sprayed while penned behind orange netting during that day's protest. He described in a later account how he was lumped in with other protesters:

When I saw the young women get pepper sprayed, I ran over to interview them. While holding a microphone and wearing a badge identifying myself as an employee of “WNET – New York Public Media,” I found myself suddenly roped into one of the large nets. I was thrown against a wall and handcuffed with hard plastic zip-tie restraints. I sat on the sidewalk with about 50 others. I yelled over and over “I’m press! I’m with WNET MetroFocus! Please do not arrest me.”

I did not possess the press credentials that NYPD allocates to journalists. (As MetroFocus is less than three months old, neither I nor my journalist colleagues have yet met the NYPD's qualifications.) So even though I work as a professional journalist, the NYPD lumped me in with everybody else.

Farley spent nine hours in custody, eight in a cell at the NYPD's 1st Precinct. But his subsequent report on his arrest, which came as the pepper spray incidents sparked a media firestorm, furthered the national (and international) coverage of the protest as an indication that police were being undiscerning in their response.

Update (5 p.m. EDT): We first reported that the photographer in the pepper spray video hadn't been identified, but a reader pointed us to this blog post from his uncle, describing the incident and Hinkeraker's involvement. Hinderaker also got mentioned in a Times City Room blog post on the incident.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.