There’s no doubt 2020 has been rough for many workers. That certainly holds true for Oregon journalists, who in addition to their regular beats now have to cover COVID-19, civil unrest and devastating wildfires.

Newspapers are sometimes called the first draft of history, and there’s plenty of history being made this year.

To be sure, there’s never been a shortage of stories, even in our own relatively small “big” towns such as Albany and Corvallis. Lately, though, there’s been so much news to cover.

Journalists might seem frazzled for a different reason, however, as another unfortunate trend has developed in 2020.

A growing problem across the nation is law enforcement officers who have acted unjustly and used excessive force against journalists. In some instances, the press has been arrested on trumped-up charges despite video evidence that clearly contradicts the “official” version of events. There was a particularly heinous example of this in Los Angeles in September.

This week, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has asked authorities to review recent incidents involving police at protests against racial injustice in Portland. These include an instance where videos show police grabbing a news photographer and pushing him to the ground as he was trying to document them tackling and detaining a person on a sidewalk, as reported by The Associated Press.

An Oregon Public Broadcasting journalist also was apparently pushed by police into a tree. “I’d also love to hear elected officials explain why a reporter from my organization was subject to violence at the hands of law enforcement when judges have made it very clear this is not acceptable,” wrote OPB Editor Anna Griffin in a tweet.

There have been numerous incidents at protests where police roughed up journalists and even cases where they targeted and shot the press with “less lethal” but still extremely damaging rounds at Black Lives Matter protests. These have happened not just in Portland, but in Salem, Eugene and elsewhere across the nation over the past few months.

In Medford, there was another troubling case recently. On Sept. 22, police arrested 11 people, including Jefferson Public Radio reporter April Ehrlich — a former reporter at The News-Review — during a sweep of a homeless camp that formed after wildfires.

According to The Associated Press, most were cited for trespassing. Ehrlich, the vice president of the Oregon chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, also faces charges of interfering with a police officer and resisting arrest.

Ehrlich’s attorney denied the allegations and said his client was fully within her rights to perform her duties as a journalist at the scene.

In a statement, JPR said that Ehrlich was directed by the Medford Police Department toward a media “staging area” where she could not interact with homeless people, nor witness their interactions with police.

“April attempted to continue her work, telling the stories she saw as a journalist, rather than being managed toward the people and stories MPD wanted her to see,” the JPR statement reads.

Let us make clear that the Albany Democrat-Herald and Corvallis Gazette-Times generally have good relationships with the police agencies in our coverage area. But we’re sometimes watched over by government officials who try to control the message, and this can occur in the most absurd situations. (Just a hint: If we’re covering an event where residents are volunteering and doing good deeds, don’t forbid them to talk to the press without a minder present.)

Journalists go to great lengths to put themselves at the scene of the news, sometimes exposing themselves to potential danger, to observe things firsthand, as well as talk to witnesses and those directly impacted by events.

Sometimes, these details are simply color that give readers a sense of place. In other cases, key facts emerge that would never be put in a news release, where information is filtered by an agency spokesperson.

Attacking the press and keeping them from gathering information — including by muzzling the public — isn’t just an issue for journalists.

This movement against the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution means the public isn’t being informed on what’s really happening and isn’t as knowledgeable about key issues. This chilling battle against the independent press by our own government agencies goes against cornerstone values of the United States.

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(6) comments


From the Brennan Center For Justice - "Hidden in Plain Sight: Racism, White Supremacy, and Far-Right Militancy in Law Enforcement: "These reforms, while well-intentioned, leave unaddressed an especially harmful form of bias, which remains entrenched within law enforcement: explicit racism. Explicit racism in law enforcement takes many forms, from membership or affiliation with violent white supremacist or far-right militant groups, to engaging in racially discriminatory behavior toward the public or law enforcement colleagues, to making racist remarks and sharing them on social media. While it is widely acknowledged that racist officers subsist within police departments around the country, federal, state, and local governments are doing far too little to proactively identify them, report their behavior to prosecutors who might unwittingly rely on their testimony in criminal cases, or protect the diverse communities they are sworn to serve."



NJ- That is dumb. Racism is a thing of the Left. And, explicit racism in law enforcement? You are a sick person.


NJ, thank you for posting that with a link. Unless we acknowledge the nature of a problem, nothing can be done to solve it.


For generations, journalism was called The Fourth Pillar of Democracy. I hope people still understand the importance of that idea.


mwordon- as long at the media stays skewed to the left right?


Left right? You of open mind and love of freedom.

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