David Zurawik: Attacks on journalists covering George Floyd protests mount

David Zurawik, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in Op Eds

Add Baltimore to the growing list of communities in which journalists covering protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd have been attacked.

The attacks have come both from police and protesters, and they have been nationwide, ranging from a CNN reporter and crew being attacked with rubber bullets by law enforcement officers in Minneapolis, where Floyd died at the hands of police, to Washington, D.C., where a Fox News crew was chased from coverage near the White House by angry protesters.

In downtown Baltimore Saturday night, according to social media accounts, WBFF reporter Dan Lampariello and photographer Jacob Fisher were attacked and had equipment stolen while they were trying to cover protests there.

According to a WBFF video posted on Facebook, the station's team was first chased away from an area in front of City Hall. Then later, after moving a few blocks away to what Lampariello described on video as Baltimore and Calvert streets, they were attacked again.

"Last night, a FOX45 news crew reporting from the Baltimore demonstrations outside of City Hall was attacked and chased away by a group of protesters who resorted to violence," Scott Livingston, senior vice president of news for the Sinclair Broadcast Group, said in an email to The Baltimore Sun. "Despite this incident, we remain undeterred, and our incredible journalists will continue to fulfill their duties and report live from the protests.

The kinds of images WBFF and Lampariello posted on the station's website and social media sites were not unique this weekend.

In Washington, Fox News reporter Leland Vittert and his crew were chased by protesters while covering demonstrations in front of the White House Friday night. A photojournalist for KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh said he was "attacked" by protesters and had his camera stolen, according to CNN.

The attacks on reporters and photographers were so widespread that it was the lead topic on CNN's "Reliable Sources" show Sunday. (I was one of the panelists weighing in on it.)

"It is wrong to see journalists and photographers and news crews being assaulted and arrested in protests. But these threats aren't just coming from the police," host Brian Stelter said. "In recent days, protesters have ganged up on the press in several cities. And it's wrong. Attacking a photojournalist is wrong. Chasing a TV news crew is wrong. Rioters destroying TV news vehicles and stealing cameras is wrong."

Agreeing with those sentiments is easy and obvious for me.

But the question that remains is why we are seeing more physical attacks on the press than we did, say, in 2015 in the uprising in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray.


There was some conflict then. Protesters did confront Fox News reporters on the street. But Fox News reporters like Geraldo Rivera were provoking some of it. Remember Rivera saying on air that the people on the streets in Baltimore seemed to be "looking for trouble"?

There are a lot of reasons for the rise, but here's the one I think making the greatest difference: almost four years of the president of the United States demonizing the press, calling reporters "enemies of the people" and "scum," and encouraging rallygoers at his events to intimidate them.

"The Lamestream Media is doing everything within their power to foment hatred and anarchy. As long as everybody understands what they are doing, that they are FAKE NEWS and truly bad people with a sick agenda, we can easily work through them to GREATNESS!" he tweeted Sunday.

Even to protesters who might despise Trump, his words have depicted journalists as another kind of arrogant and elite group that deserves to be hated and abused.

In this COVID-19 moment of great confusion and fear, amid the powerful emotions stirred by video of Floyd's death, attacking members of the press is an easy way to vent emotions that are hard to understand. Trump has helped inflame both the emotions and the confusion about their true cause.

About The Writer

David Zurawik is The Baltimore Sun's media critic. Email: david.zurawik@baltsun.com; Twitter: @davidzurawik.

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