Occupy L.A. Eviction: Is LAPD Restricting Coverage With Last-Minute 'Pool Media'?
[Update, morning after: Awesomely, the "pool" reports turned into a sort of crowd-sourced feed; LA Weekly reporter Gene Maddaus says he received constant email updates throughout the night from news outlets with soldiers in the pool. So it seems the chosen ones didn't adhere to the LAPD's silly, unenforceable idea of how media should work at the eviction. As it should be. However, police did manage to force out all indie reporters/photogs from the park with threats of arrest, and Dakota Smith at the LA Daily News Tweeted this morning that "LAPD didn't want us interviewing protesters.... handful times we could talk to people."]
PHOTO BY TED SOQUI Will the final LAPD-Occupy standoff be photographed?
[Update: All "uncredentialed" media was moved out of the park as soon as arrests began, as promised. Big fat constitutionally questionable cherry on top: L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa issued a midnight press release with the eye-popping line, "During the park closure, a First Amendment area will remain open on the Spring Street City Hall steps." We couldn't make this stuff up.]
[Update: Predictably, though the LAPD instructed them not to, a few reporters in the pool are Tweeting anyway. Namely, NBC4's Antonio Castelan, who's posting amazing photos of LAPD-issued rubber gloves -- special for the media pool, "just in case we come across biohazardous materials" -- and the tree-sitter who still refuses to come down. Wonder how the LAPD thought they could enforce cellphone restrictions on a bunch of media-phites. As for the citizen pool: It seems only one brave ustreamer, OccupyLACivicEngagement, is still live within the "unlawful assembly." ]
[Update: Embedded media won't even be able to use their cellphones during the raid. Officer Karen Rayner at LAPD media relations says, "I think I heard somebody say they weren't allowed to use their cellphones or Tweet or anything like that." And KNX news radio confirms to the LA Weekly that their reporter at the scene has been "embargoed" from leaking information until the eviction is over. Scary stuff. Click here for more Weekly coverage through the night.]
[Update: For live video of the Occupy L.A. eviction, we recommend these ustreams: Occupy Oakland Live, CrossXBones and OccupyFreedomLA. Almost 1,000 cops are expected to show up by bus once the park officially closes at 10:30 p.m.]
Updated at the bottom with a full list of the chosen news outlets. Also: If the LAPD doesn't lift media restrictions, the ACLU plans to file an injunction against them.
Creating limited media pools at high-profile, heavily policed events isn't an uncommon practice at the Los Angeles Police Department.
"When we don't have resources to accomodate every single outlet that wants to be there, we often do that," says Officer Karen Rayner in the media-relations office.
But a last-minute email to the LAPD's press list last night -- saying "any outlet interested in being considered for the [Occupy L.A. eviction] pool must have a representative attend this meeting, no exceptions" -- has raised some concerns among smaller-time reporters covering Occupy L.A.
(And in the case of Occupy Wall Street, the bloggers and freelancers are often the only ones getting the story right.)
We've contacted Lieutenant Andy Neiman, who heads media relations, for a full list of this year's "pool media" events. But they're usually big trials like Dr. Conrad Murray's or O.J. Simpson's, and other scenes where the police might have trouble keeping crowds at bay.
The pending Occupy L.A. eviction is a trickier beast. Police in other cities are under close scrutiny for their individual treatment of occupiers, and though the LAPD has proven a gentle giant so far (at the mayor's bidding, no doubt), their precise actions at the upcoming eviction are of great importance to Occupy Wall Street observers all over the world.
"At some time in the future, whenever they decide to shut down the park -- once it's declared an unlawful assembly -- only the 'pool' people are going to be allowed in there," says Rayner.
Neiman's "pool media" email was sent to select media outlets (not including the LA Weekly, strangely) around 5:30 p.m. on Monday evening. The notification went up on the City News Service wire (which not all outlets subscribe to) at about 6 p.m. The meeting began at 7:15 p.m.
Frustrated blogger/reporter Ruth Fowler quotes the following from an anonymous attendee of the meeting:
"They were only going to let in one media outlet for each medium (print, tv and radio) but we convinced them to let in three....the only media eligible for pool were those who were on the LAPD press release list and able to get to headquarters with an hours notice. So very few were represented at the meeting. I asked about independent radio/blogs and they said that only media with LAPD-issued badges would be allowed in the vicinity. I asked about those already at the camp and they said after the unlawful assembly order everyone who doesn't leave will be arrested, even those who are journalists. Our attorney was looking into whether there were legal challenges to be made."
Rayner tells the LA Weekly: "You can send your concerns to email@example.com, but at this point in time, it's kind of a moot point. It's too late."
So we ask what the perimeter will be -- how close we can get to the camp, come eviction time.
"That's the big question of the hour," says Rayner. "That's not going to be released until right before the event occurs."
So basically, reporters can be jailed if they find themselves within this yet-to-be-announced V.I.P. area. That's a sensitive subject, after numerous journos were strongarmed and jailed by NYPD during their raid of Zuccotti Park.
The LAPD-issued badges are another area of concern. As we noted during a tight L.A. City Council meeting on NFL stadium plans:
LAPD passes are issued only to crime reporters; on each personalized application, a journalist must either prove he's on the police beat or, essentially, lie about it, or the application will be denied. For a political writer to need to prove he's buddy-buddy with the LAPD in order to avoid dickish police hassling at a purely political meeting is childish, and reminiscent of Los Angeles' overly protective, V.I.P. approach to press regulations. Like the LAPD can somehow prevent the next Loughner by screening every journalist that comes within 15 feet of a precious local politician.
Now, it appears police are using this press badge, issued exclusively by themselves, to clear the premises for the swift cleanup they're planning. (Along with the shotgun "pool media" meeting last night and, coming up, an undisclosed eviction time/place.) It's engineered perfectly to keep up the pristine PR image that L.A. has maintained through this Occupy revolution.
Update No. 1: From the front page of today's Los Angeles Times:
The city's concern about its image was underscored Monday when police announced they would be allowing only a small group of print, television and radio journalists past police lines when the eviction is finally carried out. Police said the rules were to protect journalists from being harmed during the operation.
When they say "harmed," they're probably talking about the extensive injuries inflicted upon a couple of reporters by LAPD officers at the infamous May Day Melee in 2007 -- the same brutal police-protester clash that many believe prompted the department's delicate handling of Occupy.
And going back to 2000, the LAPD was widely criticized, and sued, for its handling of the crowd -- including indiscriminate rubber bullet-firing at member of the press -- outside the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. Since then, they've been super cautious about stepping on reporters' toes, and sometimes require media to contain itself in safe areas.
Update No. 2: Mohammed Tajser, a bridge fellow at the ACLU of Southern California, tells the LA Weekly that the ACLU will call LAPD media relations this evening and ask them to open the eviction scene to all members of the media, including bloggers and indie types. If that doesn't work, the First Amendment org plans to "file something tomorrow morning -- a temporary injunction preventing [police] from doing the media pool and the press badge."
Unconfirmed reports say that ABC, NBC and the Associated Press are the video outlets allowed on scene. For print, the Los Angeles Times, the LA Daily News and Reuters have made it into the pool (again, unconfirmed). KFI radio reporter Steve Gregory says he was also approved.
Gregory said on air yesterday that pool elite will be outfitted in special protective clothing before the raid. They'll be notified an hour before police dive in, and won't be allowed to phone home with their juice until the eviction is over.
More bizarre still: Reporters in the pool will have to submit their entire "pool reports" to the wire (City News Service) before any news outlet can post an exclusive. This is supposed to make the LAPD's restrictive approach fair for all non-pool outlets -- but ironically just gives the brave embedded bloggers and rubberneckers on the sidewalk the clear advantage.
The whole thing smacks of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's obsession with having the Occupy experience turn out swimmingly in his harmonious kingdom -- and of City Hall and the LAPD's utter incomprehension of media in the 21st century.
Update No. 3: Here are your official media messengers, as selected by the LAPD.
ReportersDakota Smith, LA Daily NewsShelby Grad, Los Angeles TimesSteve Gorman, Reuters
Rob St. John, Los Angeles Times
Sam Mircovich, Reuters
Tracy Gitnick, Associated Press
Claudia PeschiutaPete Demetriou, KNX 1070
Steve Gregory, KFI
Update No. 4: So KCAL9 was running an awesome aerial live stream of the massive deployment of 1,000-plus LAPD officers from Dodger Stadium to City Hall. But then -- get this -- they reportedly stopped the stream because they had "made an agreement with LAPD not to reveal their tactics," and wanted to protect the integrity of the operation.
Not that it matters. #OccupyLA is trending, over a dozen news trucks are lined up alongside the park (Occupy's own media representatives have embedded themselves in that lineup for safety) and countless reporters are Tweeting from the scene, including our own @dennisjromero. Stay tuned.