Dig on this picture of CNN's Sumi Das and freelance photog Mike Horine, as they execute a live shot outside last week's fatal Elks Lodge building collapse in Clinton, Missouri. The out-of-towners escaped unscathed, but a local news crew got thrown in the pokey for failing to obey the reasonable direction of the Missouri Highway Patrol. Police arrested KYTV reporter Sara Sheffield and photog Cliff Erwin virtually during their live shot! The two were reporting from the public side of the yellow tape, within an area where police were allowing the public to congregate. However, law enforcers on scene wanted the TV crew to move to a space set up for the media. When the two declined and proceeded to go live, cops arrested photog Erwin and allowed Sheffield to finish her on-camera remote before slapping the cuffs on her. Both took a ride downtown, received misdemeanor charges and were released.
Why should you care? Well, if you don't make it a habit of loitering by calamity's edge, then perhaps you shouldn't - but if you believe in an unencumbered press, consider this: Our democracy works best when journalists are allowed access to both the mundane and the diabolical. Fatality aside, this case ranks somewhere in the middle and the KYTV crews should have been granted a vantage point equal to that of Lurene and Larry Looky-Loo. They were not. Instead, police insisted they report to a special 'press area' where armed constables could make sure they didn't upend the bedrock of the Republic by getting a clear shot of a damaged Elks Lodge. Thanks fellas, Superman can scratch Clinton, Missouri off his to-do list!
Now, I'm not proposing members of the Fourth Estate be allowed to run amok over evidence, crime tape and first responder. But where the public is allowed to gather so should the press - be it a sleep-walking scribe with a filled-up scratch-pad or a tricked-out techie with a lens-extender and a satellite dish. It seems simple, doesn't it? Tell that to the oak tree with the badge pinned to his tit. He'll most likely point his walkie-talkie toward a far-flung spot and suggest you follow it. Sometimes when you have no choice, but no news-stalker I know walks there without a fight ... or as KYTV attornies suggest, 'a quiet discussion'. Spoken like a lawyer, one whose role it is to dodge and obfuscate, not roll up and report. Fine - we all got jobs to do. Just as the deputy has the duty to keep a crowd at bay, the news crew has to right to penetrate the onlooker scrum so those not present can endure the view as well. That's usually how it works, but when testosterone and flashing lights reach a certain temperature, roadside logic evaporates and you can quickly find your camera and your self being pushed back to absurd distances by people who own every wretched season of COPS on special-edition DVD.
Just don't expect the magistrate on duty to appreciate all that delicious irony. Those guys can be real crab-asses...
(UPDATE! Follow this link for copyrighted pictures of the arrest...)