Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The New York Times tries to return the scene of their omission last fall (the RNC protests) and they still get it half-assed

This morning's New York Times begs the question of is better late than never really better?
Reading Jim Dwyer's "Videos Challenge Accounts of Convention Unrest" one has to wonder.

Here's an excerpt:

Accused of inciting a riot and resisting arrest, Mr. Kyne was the first of the 1,806 people arrested in New York last summer during the Republican National Convention to take his case to a jury. But one day after Officer Wohl testified, and before the defense called a single witness, the prosecutor abruptly dropped all charges.
During a recess, the defense had brought new information to the prosecutor. A videotape shot by a documentary filmmaker showed Mr. Kyne agitated but plainly walking under his own power down the library steps, contradicting the vivid account of Officer Wohl, who was nowhere to be seen in the pictures. Nor was the officer seen taking part in the arrests of four other people at the library against whom he signed complaints.
A sprawling body of visual evidence, made possible by inexpensive, lightweight cameras in the hands of private citizens, volunteer observers and the police themselves, has shifted the debate over precisely what happened on the streets during the week of the convention.
For Mr. Kyne and 400 others arrested that week, video recordings provided evidence that they had not committed a crime or that the charges against them could not be proved, according to defense lawyers and prosecutors.

It's a nice-sized story and it's certainly "better" that the Times has reported on what it failed to report on in real time. However, there's another issue here.

For instance, we find out that for 'technical reasons' (my term, read the article), the prosecutor's office had originally 'edited' a tape of a man accused of using his bicycle to ram police officers. He didn't. The full tape showed him calmly walking up. That's news to those who rely solely on the Times, but it's not news to others. Where are they in the story this morning?

The Times mentions citizens activists and others taping but it's strange that the paper can't find any of them to talk to. That's why I question the "better late than never." This is still a half-assed story.

What went down in NYC is a mystery to those who get their information solely from the Times.
(The Poor People's March was only one story they refused to cover.) On this topic, you were informed, in real time, of what was going on if you watched Democracy Now! (no surprise there).

Let's note a paragraph from this morning's Times:

In what appeared to be the most violent incident at the convention protests, video shot by news reporters captured the beating of a man on a motorcycle - a police officer in plainclothes - and led to the arrest of one of those involved, Jamal Holiday. After eight months in jail, he pleaded guilty last month to attempted assault, a low-level felony that will be further reduced if he completes probation. His lawyer, Elsie Chandler of the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, said that videos had led to his arrest, but also provided support for his claim that he did not realize the man on the motorcycle was a police officer, reducing the severity of the offense.

Plain clothes police officer? On a motorcylce? Gee, that's interesting. Let's go to Democracy Now! (August 30, 2004):

JEREMY SCAHILL: One of the things that I thought was one of the most disturbing tactics is when we were moving up Broadway as the mouse bloc was moving to another Broadway show, the police came in on motorcycles, there was no identification that they were police whatsoever. They were actual motorcycles, they were wearing helmets that said Harley-Davidson. At first I thought it was a group of bikers who were coming to attack the protesters. And they drove the motorcycles into the middle of the crowds.

Drove the motorcyles into the crowds? Harley-Davidson helments? The Times doesn't tell you about that, does it?

Let's stay with the same story from Democracy Now! for a moment:

AMY GOODMAN: And as we followed the crowds, it was frightening. The motorcycles would race up, and Sharif Abdel-Kouddous, another producer, and I were walking, the police were moving in on the protesters and not giving them a chance or warning. There was a man in front of me wearing a bandana and jeans who was walking slowly, and I said to him, it seemed like a bystander, I said, please move ahead. We were just about to be -- the police were moving in very fast. He slowed down. I realized later, he was an undercover cop, which meant he was penning us in with the protesters. And as we quickly made our way down the street trying to observe everything, as the police tackled these protesters, who were saying "I’m trying to get away," we heard one of the officials in charge, say to the other police around him, "If they stop, if they ask a question, cuff them." Cuffing them is not just cuffing them. It's slamming them to the ground as they say, "What have I done? What have I done?"

Gee, did Dwyer think to call up Amy Goodman? She was actually out in the streets reporting.
She's a journalist. And she's covered this topic.

But you don't hear from reporters. You don't even hear of some the rare reporting that the Times did in real time in Dwyer's article. You get the district attorney's office, you get the police, but you don't hear from the "citizen activists" and you don't hear from a reporter who might have actually witnessed anything.

Better late than never? Over six months later, I think the Times is still giving us "never" when they run a half-assed article like this. (As always, what appears in print under a reporter's name may or may not reflect what he or she originally wrote. Which is why we're saying "the Times" and not "Dwyer.")

You might or might not remember, that while the paper of record* did a poor job of covering the protests, they spent freely on the GOP visitors. From Democracy Now! (August 26, 2005):

ARUN GUPTA:The -- that's a funny little anecdote about how the Republican Party didn't want the republican delegates to see such stuff as Assassins, which is a Steven Sondheim musical, I believe, about people who tried to assassinate the president, or Rent, which is a gritty musical about the Lower East Side.
JUAN GONZALEZ: They're actually going, as I understand it, to about seven or eight different Broadway shows all sponsored by The New York Times, special performances for the republican delegates. What the liberal New York Times is doing spending hundreds of thousands of dollars bankrolling entertainment for a partisan political organization, I’m not quite sure. But it hasn't gotten much attention in most of the press.
ARUN GUPTA: There were people who were joking about how protesters should sponsor people to go see Assassins, you know, and as a counter to that, but it really is amazing, it shows you where the corporate press comes down. Even the liberal establishment.
AMY GOODMAN: But instead, they're offering discounts to, is it Naked Boys Singing?
ARUN GUPTA: Yeah. Something like that.

As Juan Gonzalez rightly asked, what is the New York Times "doing spending hundreds of thousands of dollars bankrolling entertainment for a partisan political organization?"

Did the shoddy coverage of the convention protests have anything to do with the fact that the Times was funding delegates to the convention? Is that issue ever going to be dealt with? (Two community members forwarded e-mails they sent to Daniel Okrent, the so-called "readers' advocate," on this issue back in August. No surprise, it wasn't addressed.)

The Times wants to, ideally, do two things. Carry the weight of official sources (which they rely on to be the "paper of record") and maintain their stance (pose?) of objectivity. I'd argue that this clearly demonstrates that when official sources come into conflict with objectivity, we see which one wins out. For the record, you can't be "objective" if you're funding delegates to a convention you're covering.

(Someone will argue, possibly Candy Perfume Boy who loves the 'contract labor' excuse, "They didn't fund the delegates!" They gave money to items that went to delegates. We're not talking providing free papers here, we're talking tickets to shows. Once they do that, they set up the appearence of a conflict of interest.)

The superficial reporting in the Times today may slip past those readers who depend solely on the Grey Lady for "all the news that's fit to print." But a lot more went down than the paper ever told you about. Now, all these months later, they want to return to the scene of their omissions and they're still doing a lousy job. NYC is their "stage," their "platform." If for no other reason, you'd think they do a better job. Considering the implications for free speech, you'd think they'd flood the zone, using the latest details as a reason to inform you of the status of other arrests and information that they never provided readers with.

It doesn't make the paper of record* and it really didn't before. So maybe they can delude themselves that it's a nonstory and that running today's piece on the front page somehow sets the "record" straight? If so, they're kidding themselves.

Who in the world do you think that you are fooling, Democracy Now! has already done everything that you are doing -- and done it better. ***

For those who've missed out on real coverage of the protests or who've forgotten, I'd recommend the following stories to you:

"RNC Aftermath: A Look at Undercover Cops, Preemptive Detention and Police Surveillance"
(September 8, 2004)

Excerpt from that story:

AMY GOODMAN: On the last night of the RNC, I had a chance to talk with Deputy Police Chief Michael Collins across the barricades at 30th and 8th Avenue where more protesters continued to gather as President Bush spoke inside. Here is some of what Deputy Police Chief Michael Collins had to say.
MICHAEL COLLINS: The strategy this week was to ensure that the rights of all New Yorkers and all visitors to New York were protected, and that people who needed to go to work and go about their daily lives could do so with as little interference as possible with preparations for the convention and preparations for any demonstrations that were planned, and I think overall, we accomplished that mission. Most people could get around New York as needed. Most of the demonstrations went off without incident, and when there was lawbreaking, police used minimal -- minimal force in effecting those arrests. There were very few people injured on the police side and on the demonstrators' side. With just about everyone in the crowd, or every other person in the crowd with a camera, I have not seen any video or pictures that trouble me. It looks like the police were professional and patient.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Deputy Police Chief Michael Collins on the barricades on the last night of the Republican National Convention just after President Bush addressed the convention at the Madison Square Garden a couple of blocks above where Collins was. We're joined right now by Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, and Marc Steier with the Mass Defense Committee of New York City National Lawyers Guild. Why don't you start, Donna Lieberman, with your response to what the Deputy Police Chief had to say.
DONNA LIEBERMAN: Well, I think that the Deputy Police Chief must not have seen the videos which were aired on TV of hundreds of people being swept up for following the instructions of the police department, as to how they could have a lawful march. That happened across from Ground Zero on Fulton Street with the War Resistors' League demonstration. It happened in Union Square, or off Union Square, on 17th Street where a group of protesters negotiated where do we march lawfully, go on the sidewalk. They went on the sidewalk and boom, they were swept up. That's not to mention the scores of bystanders, maybe hundreds, who were swept up in the indiscriminate sweeps. Those sweeps included bystanders, press people, medics legal observers, and we believe that indeed the police department may have been targeting the green-hatted guild legal observers. Our observers from the New York Civil Liberties Union in the blue caps were not targeted. Only one received a summons that was an utter case of harassment for which we will be filing a complaint. I think we have a lot to investigate here. Indiscriminate arrests is just the tip of the iceberg. We saw a couple of incidents of violence. He must have missed the mopeds, police in plain clothes driving their mopeds into the crowd on Monday night. Then I think the huge story is about the indefinite or the prolonged detention of people who were arrested. The police bragged that they were giving DAT's in virtually all of the cases.
AMY GOODMAN: Desk Appearance Tickets.
DONNA LIEBERMAN: Which is supposed to be the fast track to getting out on a minor offense and it took tons longer, days longer to get out on a DAT, Desk Appearance Ticket, for a disorderly conduct, than it would take on a misdemeanor charge or even a felony charge. And then, of course, there are the conditions at the pier, at Pier 57. The New York Civil Liberties Union has taken a sample of Pier 57 that was brought to us, and we're having it analyzed for toxic chemicals.
AMY GOODMAN: Let's talk about the scope of what happened last week. Watching the talk shows this weekend, no one might have are realized the level of the protests, as they wrapped up the significance of the week. We're talking about the largest mass protest in the history of political conventions. We're talking about the largest number of people arrested in a single day, over 1,000 on Tuesday, in the city's history. The single largest number of arrests, and one of the largest in the history of this country. And overall, the number of arrests close to 2,000, more than 1,800. Let's go to the videotape again, to Deputy Police Chief Michael Collins talking about several issues, including the conditions at Pier 57.

Wonder what Deputy Police Chief Michael Collins would say today? The Times this morning gives you Paul J. Browne speaking for the police department. One wonders what real reporting might have done with this story? Might Collins have been confronted with his earlier statement and asked to justify it? If Collins refused to speak to the Times, might real reporting have at least meant reprinting his "rows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air" statement? (". . . ice cream castles in the air" is from Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now." Her version of the song, which she wrote, appears on the album Clouds. Judy Collins** recorded the song earlier on her album Wildflowers.)

"Crackdown: 400 Arrests as NYPD Unveil New Policing Tactics & Surveillance Methods" (August 30, 2004)

AMY GOODMAN: The Democracy Now! team was on the streets of New York in different parts of the city yesterday to cover all of the different protests before and after the major march. Producer and correspondent Jeremy Scahill joins us in the studio now. We'll be speaking with one of the protesters who was arrested this week in a banner-hang and she faces many decades in jail. We begin, though, with Jeremy. Jeremy, welcome.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Good to be here, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Well it was quite a day yesterday.
JEREMY SCAHILL: It's really remarkable what's going on. I think the real story of yesterday beyond the enormity of that march is the battle going on between the independent media movement in this country and activists and the police in terms of who is becoming more sophisticated in their tactics. What we're seeing is this unprecedented level of text messaging around the city. Various activists groups and the Independent Media Center are blasting out these text message updates to people's telephones telling them where the action is. If the police are beating people on a certain corner, within moments, hundreds, or thousands, of activists are getting the text messages on their phones. They're responding to it throughout the day. Going all the way to Central Park. But the police are using sophisticated tactics. There are at least 200 police officers roaming the city that have cameras mounted on helmets that are beaming back, wirelessly, video images to the central command area they have set up called the Multi-Agency Coordination Center. Some 66 federal, state, local agencies working in coordination with each other. On a tactical level, what we're seeing in the streets is the police – many of the police not identifying themselves in any way as police. In fact, Amy, you and I yesterday were at a protest of the mouse bloc where they were moving from theater to theater, in the theater district around Broadway, around 47th street. When the republican delegates would come out of their discounted theater shows, the mouse bloc would confront them and get into arguments with the Republican delegates as they were coming out. Well, as they ran around and made their way from theater to theater, a number of times, the police used tactics to cut them off, to split the march. One of the things they did, was to take orange fence-like -- a mesh -- orange mesh fence-like material and to literally surround the demonstrators with it. Anyone caught in the orange mesh netting was then arrested and was put onto city buses, New York City buses. One of the things that I thought was one of the most disturbing tactics is when we were moving up Broadway as the mouse bloc was moving to another Broadway show, the police came in on motorcycles, there was no identification that they were police whatsoever. They were actual motorcycles, they were wearing helmets that said Harley-Davidson. At first I thought it was a group of bikers who were coming to attack the protesters. And they drove the motorcycles into the middle of the crowds.

"Shout Heard Around the World: Nearly 1,000 Arrested in Series of RNC Protests" (September 1, 2004)

More than 950 people were arrested yesterday as thousands of activists carried out a series of direct actions and civil disobedience at locations throughout New York City yesterday. The protests were organized by the A31 Action Coalition, a decentralized umbrella group made up of scores of activist organizations and affinity groups. Yesterday's arrests brought the number of arrests during the Republican National Convention to over 1500.
The groups participating in yesterday's coordinated actions ranged from the War Resisters League to the Ruckus Society to CODE Pink to Direct Action to the San Francisco-based Stop the War. The protests targeted Republican delegates, corporate media outlets, mega corporations and government buildings, as well as other sites. A few hours before the actions kicked off, some of the groups working with the A31 Action Coalition held a press conference.

"Activists Face 25 Years for Hanging Anti-Bush Banner At Plaza Hotel" (August 30, 2004)

On Thursday, in one of the first protests against the Republican National Convention, four activists dropped a huge anti-Bush banner from the Plaza Hotel. The banner featured two arrows facing opposite ways. The arrow pointing forward read Truth. The arrow pointing backward read Bush.
The banner drop went off without a hitch.
The four activists were arrested. They expected to face minor charges.
But the four now face two Class D felony counts and up to 25 years in jail. The police charged them with assault because a police officer stepped in a skylight and cut his leg while responding to the crime.
The New York Times reports that in March the Police Department instructed officers under certain circumstances to consider charging protesters during the convention with second-degree assault if any are injured while trying to make arrests.
Their attorney Gerald Lefcourt said he had been defending protesters since the Vietnam era and had never seen an assault charge applied in a similar situation.
He told the New York Times "It is really a bogus charge, probably to try to scare off future demonstrators…. Assault requires an intent to cause injury and taking steps to cause that injury”
We are joined now in our studio with Terra Lawson-Rember, one of the four activists involved in the banner drop action.

The New York Times will do an update on that case when?

"Making Protest Painful: Detained RNC Protesters Held in Crowded, Oil-Contaminated Conditions" (September 2, 2004)
Protests against the Republican convention continued yesterday throughout New York City. The police arrested 19 people in separate incidents, bringing the total of those detained so far during seven days of relentless convention-related protests to more than 1,760 - a record for a political convention.
Hundreds of people protested the conditions under which those arrested are being held before going to court saying the site was contaminated with oil and asbestos. Pier 57 is a three-story, block-long pier that has been converted to a holding pen.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has denied the city was operating what some called "Guantanamo-on-the-Hudson." And defended the use of the of the pier garage saying "It's not supposed to be Club Med."
Last night, a judge ordered protesters who had been held for 24-hours released with desk appearance tickets if they were not charged with serious crimes. Before midnight, some protesters started emerging from 100 Centre St. around the block from our firehouse studio. Some 200 supporters greeted them with cheers and offered food and medical treatment. Despite the judge's orders, a large number of protesters remain imprisoned.

"Guantanamo On the Hudson: Detained RNC Protesters Describe Prison Conditions" (September 2, 2004)

Protests against the Republican convention continued yesterday throughout New York as Democratic Sen. Zell Miller delivered the convention's keynote address and Vice President Dick Cheney accepted his nomination to run for a second term.
Early in the day, AIDS activists from the ACT UP group breached the Madison Square Garden convention hall and briefly interrupted a speech by White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card to young Republicans, including Bush's twin daughters.
Outside, five thousand people protesting high job losses formed a silent, single-file unemployment line that stretched for three miles from Wall Street to 31st Street, just shy of the convention center. Tens of thousands other protesters gathered for two hours in a designated demonstration area two blocks from Madison Square Garden in support of more union jobs in the United States.
Later in the day, some 2,000 people staged a "March on the Media" to protest what they say is uncritical coverage of the Bush administration by the mainstream press. Other major protests yesterday included a women's rights demonstration and a protest against Coca-Cola.
The police arrested 19 people, bringing the total of those detained so far during seven days of relentless convention-related protests to more than 1,760, a record for a political convention.
Hundreds of people yesterday protested the conditions under which those arrested are being held before going to court saying the site was contaminated with oil and asbestos. Pier 57 is a three-story, block-long pier that has been converted to a holding pen.
Yesterday morning we received a call from one of the protesters being held at Pier 57 who had smuggled a phone inside. Detainees passed the phone to each other and described the conditions of the holding facility. Democracy Now! producer Mike Burke took the call and spoke with the detained protesters.

"Harlem Rallies Against Bush & GOP" (September 3, 2004)
The Republican National Convention has wrapped up and so too have the mass protests that have rocked the city for a week. More than 1700 people were arrested, the largest number of arrests ever at a political convention. Beginning early yesterday, the protests continued as 20 AIDS activists were arrested for staging a protest in Manhattan"s Grand Central Station. A small group of protesters followed Bush through the day as he made his way from the Waldorf Hotel to a New York Church to Madison Square Garden. In the evening there were a number of rallies, culminating in a street demonstration just outside the convention.
One of the largest events of the day yesterday took place in Harlem. It was a rally organized by Artists and Activists United for Peace. It"s focus was on many of the issues of great concern to many in Harlem--jobs, housing, healthcare, reparations and police brutality. Democracy Now! producer John Hamilton was there and prepared this montage.

And guess what? That's not all the stories you can find at Democracy Now! on the protests. Search the archive (type in "republican protests" and move through the archives until you're into September). The Times could buy tickets for delegates to the convention, they just couldn't, and apparently still can't, seriously report on what went down in NYC.

(Democracy Now! also had a report by a female who had access to footage filmed from a camera mounted on a bicycle, I believe it was her bicycle, but I'm not able to locate that in the archive. If anyone knows the title of this story or a way to locate it, please e-mail at common_ills@yahoo.com. I believe the footage was filmed from the Friday before the convention began.)

*"The paper of record" is a term Okrent wasted time disputing (he really enjoys berating readers and wasting everyone's time) in one of his obnoxious little op-eds that were supposed to deal with readers' concerns and questions. Instead, he raked them over the coals for the use of "paper of record" claiming that it wasn't applied to the paper other than by outsiders. Okrent is wrong and we've noted that before and wondered if before he steps down shortly (thankfully steps down), he'd bother to correct his ERROR. He still hasn't. Since his days are (thankfully) numbered, we'll help him out a little by steering him towards the seventies. That's all the spoon feeding he gets. He's a big baby, but it's time he got out of the high chair.

** For Susan and Julia, Judy Collins has an album due out April 19th entitled Portrait of an American Girl. (It's from her Wildflower label.)

*** "Who in the world do you think that you are fooling?/ Well I've already done everything that you are doing." From "Two Kinds of Love" written by Stevie Nicks, Rick Nowels and Rupert Hine, off Stevie Nicks' album The Other Side of the Mirror.

Via Natalie, Critical Mass: Over 260 Arrested in First Major Protest of RNC is the Democracy Now! (August 30, 2004) story I couldn't locate (see above). Here's the summary:

The first major demonstration came on Friday night when some 5,000 cyclists gathered in Union Square Park for "Critical Mass," a monthly bike ride around Manhattan.
New York police made over 264 arrests that night in several locations along the bike route. Cyclists said the bike ride was peaceful and the police acted unreasonably. Most of those arrested were charged with disorderly conduct and held for 24-hours at Pier 57, a three-story, block-long pier that has been converted to a holding pen for those protesting the convention.

Please note that there is a transcript of the report online and that you can also watch it online or listen to it online. Thanks to Natalie for tracking down that story and, obviously, this post has been corrected to include what Natalie found. Also Elizabeth Press, Democracy Now! producer, was the name of the journalist participating in the report (the name I couldn't remember.)