Some press groups condemned the attack by protesters against Fox News reporter Leland Vittert in Washington, D.C. but others remained silent – despite speaking out against the arrest of a CNN reporter one day earlier.
Vittert was reporting in Lafayette Park, D.C. and covering protests sparked by the death of George Floyd. Vittert and his crew were accosted and chased out of the area by protesters early Saturday morning, footage captured by the Daily Caller News Foundation shows. (RELATED: CNN Correspondent Arrested Live On-Air During Minneapolis Riots)
Many of the groups contacted by the Daily Caller previously publicly issued statements condemning Friday’s arrest of CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez and his crew. The two events, while both suppression of press, do have a noteworthy difference. The CNN crew was arrested by police, and the Fox News crew was attacked by protesters.
First Amendment Coalition and Freedom of the Press Foundation did not respond to requests for comment from the Daily Caller.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) told the Daily Caller that it did not have “have a specific statement in that specific incident” when asked for its thoughts regarding the attack against Vittert. CPJ wrote that it is “investigating several reported attacks on journalists covering protests around the country and urges police and protesters alike to refrain from targeting journalists so that they can safely cover these newsworthy event.”
When asked for clarification regarding whether CPJ specifically condemns the attack on Vittert, the group wrote that it is “investigating,” adding they “do not make statements without doing our own reporting first.”
“It’s difficult to imagine what police needed as ‘confirmation that these individuals were members of the media’ beyond Omar Jimenez showing his press badge while he spoke into a CNN camera surrounded by his producer and crew,” CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna said, according to its website. “Journalists have a responsibility to report on matters of public interest, such as protests, and should be able to freely cover these events without fear of retaliation from authorities. These arrests ring of intimidation and are simply outrageous.”
The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) president explained that it had not yet issued a public statement regarding the Vittert attack because they “missed this one.”
“I would just say we missed this one,” Patricia Gallagher Newberry, president of SPJ, told the Daily Caller when asked for comment on the protesters’ attack. The group added that it was working on a statement “that essentially calls on police and protesters to remember that journalists play a particular role in these news happenings and that we are there to tell the story.”
“We are going to double down on our position which is journalists should be free to do their jobs, they should not be impeded from doing their jobs they most certainly should not be attacked by protesters or police as they seek to do their jobs,” Newberry said, adding that SPJ stands “with journalists at this time when they’re being, yet again, vilified in America for simply doing their jobs.”
Newberry then specifically condemned the protesters’ actions against Vittert, calling the attack “inexcusable.” (RELATED: Minneapolis 3rd Police Precinct On Fire After Officers Evacuate Building Amid George Floyd Riots)
“He’s being taunted, he’s being called the f-word, he’s a journalist on the street trying to cover the story … he’s trying to do his job like every other journalist in America,” Newberry told the Daily Caller. “He, from what I could see of the video that I watched, he reacted exactly as he should have. He did not engage, he did not spit back any vitriol to his taunters, he walked away, he sought protection.”
“He behaved in an extremely responsible and ethical manner in the face of a great challenge to his safety … It’s not right for police to attack journalists, it’s not right for protesters to attack journalists. Not cool, what the protesters there in D.C. did to Mr. Vittert.”
SPJ issued a general open letter to protesters and police Saturday evening urging them to allow journalists to do their jobs in covering the protests.
SPJ asks police officers to let journalists do their jobs in covering the #GeorgeFloyd protests. Take a moment and think before you take action against a journalist there to do their job. Treat us with the same respect and dignity that you would want. https://t.co/OgzaluO7X3 pic.twitter.com/m8rXB5N223
— Society of Professional Journalists (@spj_tweets) May 30, 2020
SPJ previously specifically condemned Jimenez’s arrest and wrote that it “demands answers from the Minnesota State Patrol.”
“Mr. Jimenez and his team were clearly doing nothing but their job – even politely offering to move to wherever police wanted them to go – but were handcuffed and taken into custody anyway,” Newberry said in the CNN arrest incident. “This is clearly a violation of the First Amendment and the Minnesota State Patrol owes them and the American people an explanation of why this occurred. This happened on live TV where we could all see. Sadly, it happens much more often than we know in this country and is not documented on live TV.”
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) condemned all attacks against reporters in a response to the Daily Caller.
“No reporter should be harassed for doing their job and bringing us the news,” RCFP Executive Director Bruce Brown said. “Our attorneys are ready to assist any reporter who needs legal support.”
RCFP confirmed that it did specifically condemn the attack against Vittert when pressed further by the Daily Caller.
“Yes, Reporters Committee condemns the harassment and attacks on the Fox News reporter Leland Vittert,” RCFP wrote.
The group “strongly” condemned the CNN arrest in a lengthy public statement on its website Friday.
“We strongly condemn the Minnesota State Patrol’s arrest of a CNN news crew covering the protests in Minneapolis, who responded professionally and appropriately to the situation,” RCFP wrote. “The First Amendment protects newsgathering, and prohibits the government from using police power as a pretext for interfering with press freedoms. Arresting journalists to prevent reporting on a public demonstration is not acceptable.”
“News coverage of protests like the one in Minneapolis is essential to informing the public and understanding the concerns of our communities. While we are relieved that the news crew was ultimately released, we expect the Minnesota State Patrol to provide a full explanation as to why these reporters, who identified themselves as journalists, were taken into custody.”