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Michael Winship: St. Paul’s Police Protest the Press

(Photo by Robin Holland)

Below is an article by JOURNAL senior writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

St. Paul’s Police Protest the Press
By Michael Winship

Chronicling his life as a journalist in the colonial British Raj, a young Winston Churchill wrote that “nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.”
Nor, I’d add, is there anything in life quite so discombobulating as to turn a corner and unexpectedly walk into a wall of tear gas.

It happened to me on a couple of occasions during the years of anti-Vietnam war protests, when I was a college student and young reporter in Washington, DC. One time I was gassed while filming a counterdemonstration on Honor America Day, a nationally televised celebration hosted by Bob Hope. As God is my witness, the gas hit just as Kate Smith was singing, “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.”

The following year, 1971, demonstrators came from around the country to shut Washington down during morning rush hour. A photographer, another reporter and I were on the scene covering a failed attempt to close the Key Bridge crossing of the Potomac. Police in pursuit, we dashed uphill into the Georgetown neighborhood only to run smack into more police lobbing canister after canister of gas until it blanketed the streets. I remember then Rhode Island Senator Claiborne Pell standing at the top of his townhouse stoop in robe and slippers, bewildered at the scene unfolding below him, clutching his rolled up copy of the Washington Post for dear life. Momentarily blinded, students took us in hand and led us to a makeshift infirmary in the basement of a university building.

So, attending the Democratic National Convention in Denver and watching events at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul via television, the sights and sounds of police and protesters were familiar. And that scent, the heavy, cloying smell of gas and pepper spray, as evocative as, but far less delicate than a Proustian cookie.

In both cities, getting tickets to the big shindigs hosted by major corporations seeking to bend the ear of party VIP’s was a media challenge – they were blocked by sometimes heavy-handed attempts by police and private security to keep the press out. A very few, like ABC News’ Brian Ross got in, recording, for example, the bash thrown for Republicans by Lockheed Martin, the American Trucking Association and the NRA, featuring a band named Hookers and Blow. However, in Denver, one of Ross’ producers, Asa Eslocker, was arrested while trying to interview Democratic senators and donors leaving a private event at the Brown Palace Hotel.

What was different in St. Paul was that the police seemed especially intent on singling out independent journalists and activists covering the Republican convention for the Internet and other alternative forms of media. Over the weekend, police staged preemptive raids on several buildings where planning sessions for demonstrations were being held, one of them a meeting of various video bloggers, including I-Witness Video, a media group that monitors law enforcement. Later in the week, I-Witness’ temporary headquarters were entered by police, claiming they had received news of a possible hostage situation.

Why all this interest? One can only speculate, but footage that I-Witness shot at the Republican convention four years ago in Manhattan has helped exonerate hundreds who were arrested and detained by the New York Police Department, their cases either dismissed or resulting in acquittals at trial.

In St. Paul, two student photographers and their advisor from the University of Kentucky were held without charge for 36 hours. The ACLU of Minnesota ID’d several other journalists, bloggers and photographers from Rhode Island, California, Illinois, Florida, and other parts of the country who also were arrested. Many others were gassed or hit by pepper spray.

Perhaps the most prominent arrest was that of journalist Amy Goodman, anchor of the daily television and radio news program, “Democracy Now!” Police had taken two of her producers into custody as they were trying to cover the news. Goodman went out looking for them, but didn’t get very far. She was stopped, slapped into handcuffs, and hauled into a detention center, along with almost 200 hundred other people. They had come to demonstrate, she had come to report on them.

Goodman was released a few hours later and back on the job anchoring her daily radio and TV show, a favorite of listeners and viewers who go to her for news they won’t find in the mainstream or rightwing press.

What has those in control worried is that despite what the politicians tell us from inside their fortified compounds where the party line rules, more and more people outside have cameras and laptops, and they’re not afraid to use them.

Forty years ago, protestors in Chicago shouted, “The whole world is watching.” More and more, the whole world isn’t just watching. From Minnesota to China, citizen journalists are reporting what they see and hear, and the powers that be don’t like it.

Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Michael Winship are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.


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The World was watching - it was the American Media and the American people who had their heads buried in the sand.

It's a sad state of MSM when the other countries know more of what is happening in America than the People do.

When they remove the stars and field of blue part of our flag and replace it with the Swastika in a field of red; you will know that the republicans have successfully turned our country into a Fourth Reich.

Discontent is the first step in the progress of a person and a nation. Unfortunately some confuse dissent with disloyalty.
If we are not permitted to protest and the independent media is prevented from doing their job then Americans are doomed to the fate of Germany when Hitler ruled.

Once all those "brave souls" are replaced, however--fired, retired, or dead-- we will have what the BigGovCorp conspirators want--no need at all for public broadcasting.
What so "Brave" about destroying property, spitting on police, hanging out with anachist? What these partisan hatemongers/aka "The Left" or Bill Moyer's Base; these journalist are putting on a show. Hope you saw right through it, oh wait you believe it? Wow, I got a bridge for for-sale, wanna buy it?


You are right....
'' Once all those "brave souls" are replaced, however--fired, retired, or dead-- we will have what the BigGovCorp conspirators want--no need at all for public broadcasting ''

I've not researched this myself, but I seem to recall that George W. Bush insisted on making some "replacements" or "changes" at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Almost immediately there was a small amount of coverage about changing the definition of "fair and balanced," as it applied to NPR and PBS. Is this so? If so, why would we not expect the bravery of those formerly "free" journalists to cover the real news to be compromised. I suspect that, as with the major media journalists for some long time, they are trying. Once all those "brave souls" are replaced, however--fired, retired, or dead-- we will have what the BigGovCorp conspirators want--no need at all for public broadcasting.

Question: What are the police protecting, and to whom does it (whatever they're protecting) belong? I do not want to pay the police to protect the ill-gained property and prerogatives of an illegitimate elite. When I say this realize that it has elements of both Libertarian and Socialist sentiment. Police are a poignant part of our predatory system . They are people who often have to perform violent and unjust acts they realize in their hearts are wrong just to secure a living. Their bravado and camaraderie are compensatory for the self esteem they have lost: just the scared whistling of a helpless herd. They were dupes before they were proclaimed heroes. I hope someday they will shed their fear and strike. I dream each night that they and the National Guard turn on our cruel masters.

Alan Wrench,
Entropy is the way of the world. If there is no concerted effort to protect the rights of citizens to protest; we will drift into a police state. We already have a dictator and an Oligarchy.
How bad do you want it to get? Apathy proceeds disaster.

We just caught the tail end of it on the news. Sometime the police are right and sometime they are wrong - but did not hear all the facts in this case. Nor do I pretend to be the ultimate arbiter of rightness.

But I thought the arrest was heavy handed.

My wife said it still beats living in China...or Nigeria.

We never did hear what the demonstration was for?

Better get the message out in more clear terms next time demonstrators.

The militarized police force is getting harder to resist as time goes by.

The demonstrators will have to resort to more creative techniques to counter such armor plating. Face shield for instance are useless if they are sprayed with a coating that cannot be seen though or cleaned easily.

If violence is to be avoided then just go on strike en masse and shut the country down.

Or stop consuming en masse....70% of our economic health (better termed as economic sickness) is based on compulsive spending.

BTW, someday you may get cooked with microwaves instead of beaten when you demonstrate.

When are you doing a show on peak oil and the dieoff Mr. Moyers?

But this would necessitate answering the question...

Should the gov and media controlled by the gov, come clean with its citizens and admit Americas best days are behind it?

Or should they stay with the fantasy and keep them in the dark?

I would not blame all St Paul law enforcement officers, my brother was once a Lt in the St Paul force, and he was a professional.

I don't recognize any of them any more, but the supposed policeman deliberately pepper spraying a photographer at the scene was at best a fool.

Some of the people misinformed are calling the RNC protestors as anarchist's and vandals.

In fact many ordinary citizens were involved in protesting (peacefully), including Iraq Veterans that the uninformed are not told about.

One person was arrested after a group of vandals got prime-time TV coverage breaking a downtonw window, where were the police?

This reminded me of the Seattle WTO protest, same vandals (or gov-plants) getting prime-time TV coverage.

Ask New Yorkers about the Police State began by Bernard Kerik (Police Commissioner, aka Bagdad Terminator) working for Homeland Security, arrested like Mafia on Tax Evasion when smelling rat in Iraq and quiting contract-job mid-year.

I checked out and it is apparently true, St Paul made RNC take out insurance against wrongful arrest law suits, and there are bound to be considerable damages for deliberately targeting almost all Independent News Reporter's. Not to mention innocent civilians herded indiscriminately into bridge and parking lot where people were cordoned off and literally pounced upon.

Brian O'neill,
From what I could see of the video; There was no reason for abusive behavior by the police.
There were no weapons of mass destruction or threats to our constitution. From what I have seen of the Republican Party in the last eight years; they are responsible for death and destruction without cause which IS criminal behavior.

I hope they all DANCE!!!!!!!!!!

I hope they all DANCE!!!!!!!!!!

I fully agree with chris

In Bill's interview with Amy Goodman, Ms. Goodman said her arrest and treatment would likely have a chilling effect on journalists. First, it seems that if Ms. Goodman's rights were infringed upon, then the news agency she works for should hit back hard with every legal challenge possible against the St. Paul police. If possible with both criminal charges and civil suits. If the police were wrong then they should be punished severely. Second, since when is the possibility of being arrested a deterrent to a good journalist, it should be a magnet!! If the police play by the rules, that's fine, but if they go way over the line, then its time to dance. Maybe we need some really big demonstrations like back in the sixtys.

What issues are on top of your agenda?
The “MONEY PARTY” stated, “THIS IS FOR YOU”! “YOU WANT CHANGE” - but denied the people the fundamental right to “EXPRESS THEIR WILL ON ALL ISSUES”! Denied the “FREEDOM to participate in POWER”!
The speakers speak of, “YOU WANT CHANGE”! The speaker speak of “FREEDOM”; In fact, there is no “CIVIC FREEDOM”! FREDOM is, “participating in POWER”!
“I got a call that two of our producers had been BLODIED by the police, Goodman”

“Hunting down innocent animals... human beings” such as,
“Salazar suffered a bloody nose after being dragged, face-down on the ground” etc.
Speaker of “MONEY PARTY” speak of CHANGES as they practice oppressive power!
A real “CHANGE” is when people demand to SET UP A

THE POWER SHOULD BE IN the “WILL OF THE PEOPLE”! It is our live, our destiny our COUNTRY and IT should be decided by OUR WILL - the “WILL OF THE PEOPLE”, and NOT by the dysfunctional CONGRESS, SENAT, EXECUTIVE ORDERS or corrupt JUSTICE SYSTEM!

It is a continual vigil to keep freedom and justice alive and well.
Pre-emptive action can be used for good or evil. For example; We need to have preventative action to avoid forest fires but not pre-emptive killing of people before we know there is a real threat. When we have a problem the solution should be consistent with the best possible results. The protection of human life, the protection of the quality of our life styles and the protection of our environment should be our foremost priorities.
Freedom and justice are essential to the quality of people's lives and we need to do what ever it takes to secure these inalienable rights.

"Thinking is the desire to gain reality by means of ideas."
José Ortega y Gasset

So why are the so-called Press hanging out with extremist and Hatemonging Anachist, who spit on the police, start fires, destroy public property, start riots and promote violence. Then when the police do there jobs and arrest these hooligans/press. The Press acts like they are off-limits, that they are some sort of hero that gets a get out of trouble/jail card everytime they get in trouble, while they write partisan hit jobs
for their al-mighty elite political parties. They are not above the law and should be treated like everyone else. Independent Journalist is just another term for a partisan hatemonger writing stories for their party! Wake Up Moyers!

''The whole world was watching'' Chicago 40 years ago......... I guess that's why St.Paul police were out there brutalizing the rights of the people, so the whole world couldn't watch if it wanted to.

Blue or red doesn't matter anymore.
Corporations rule, main stream media is the source for all information so Americans get only the small digestable sound bites.
I've lived in Chicago all my life and the brutality I saw St.Paul police administer caused me to have a flashback.

I have not had commercial nor cable TV in 15 years, therefore am not dissuaded by the pretty pictures and soundbites. I read ALL of the speeches and use my brain - and I actually have a rare brain cancer with 2 tumors removed.

So - If I, with brain pieces missing can see the reality of the corporate control on media.... It's surprising more with intact brains don't. This is where the internet comes in. I watch Bill Moyers on the internet.

Another bit that was missing in the reporting except for a brief bit on the BBC - a homeless shelter was across the street from the RNC and the homeless families were being harassed by the police to keep them from 'disrupting' the convention by seeking a meal and a place to stay. Shame on the Corporate Media for hiding the REAL world from people.

I seek information, unbiased and often from other countries who aren't depending on American money or with a grudge against American politicians. Those are getting harder to find as our government alienates and divides the world as they've done the American people. Let's face it - we won't get accurate reporting except from independent reporters - and those are being harassed in the pattern of the '60s. Been there - saw that.

Is there a REAL American People's party out there?

Thank you Michael Winship for writing about this on the blog and providing some historical context. TPTB will always try to repress dissent, and this is not the first time they've been so brutal. That said, while I did enjoy the show this week, I really felt it missed a key element by not reporting on this increasingly destructive pattern of police brutality. And those of us who live in these parts where the RNC parked itself were not all happiness and light about it. (Minnesota by the way is a BLUE state, readers.) We've been aggravated as we've followed the news for months about all the HSD money coming in to secure this "National Security Event," and many of us were shocked and disgusted with the preemptive raids on I-Witness Video and other peaceful protest groups and documentarians. The riot police were batter-ramming their way into homes, automatic weapons drawn in front of CHILDREN. Eight people were arrested for "Terrorism," which really undermines the whole meaning of the word. Yes, windows were broken by a few bad actors (and I certainly do not approve of that, it undermines the purpose of peaceful protest, and is also, BTW, often instigated, as we learned during Vietnam, by agents provocateur), but that is VANDALISM, not TERRORISM. Terrorism usually requires automatic weapons or bombs or hostages, and the only ones who had that were the HSD-funded police forces, so just who are the terrorists here? The police certainly had TC residents terrified. A friend of ours was arrested for riding his bike to work, and has his pack confiscated with all his work in it. What is this, the British-mercenary Hessians whose home and personal invasions where the REASON James Madison and George Mason wrote the Fourth Amendment IN THE FIRST PLACE??? I feel bad for the police too, they're just regular folk most of the time, and largely serve our communities with distinction. They've been put in this horrible position. The whole thing has made the Twin Cities look horrible, and many, if not most Twin Cities residents are absolutely disgusted. (And many of us were among the thousands who called and faxed and emailed mayors and sheriffs about arresting journalists, which is, people, AGAINST THE LAW. There are U.S.C. statutes prohibiting the arrest of journalists doing their jobs, and the video I saw (on FreeSpeech TV) showed journalists DOING THEIR JOBS and being brutally assaulted for it.

Meanwhile, all this money has been spent to terrorize the citizens of the Twin Cities and our welcomed guests, instead of being used to help Katrina survivors or to prepare for this storm season or, yes, to have made the necessary repairs to the I-35 bridge to prevent its deadly collapes. PEOPLE DIED! I just don't understand the priorities of our government, they are the priorities of completely insane people. Kinda like Josef Stalin. Obsessed with power and control to the point of creating the KGB and the use of secret prisons and political detentions. It is a disgusting state of affairs, it is BAD for ALL of us, of all parties (and independents like me) and it HORRIBLE for our country. This country belongs to us and it's time we took it back from these maniacs. There is NO politician who is capable of fixing this mess (we saw what happened when we gave them very specific marching orders in Nov. 2006, thanks to independents like me urging my neighbors to vote and to vote for democrats - which, BTW, WILL NOT be happening again). Some are well-meaning but all of them drank the Kool-Aid and the sooner we accept that they are not going to fix this, the sooner we can get off our duffs and do what needs doing, starting at home and working up from the grass roots.

One of our first jobs is to use the Jefferson Rules to call a Constitutional Convention. Congress won't do it. (It's been requested almost 600 times in the last 10 years or so - and by ALL 50 states - and has not once been raised for debate, which is a direct violation of Article V of the Constitution. So we have to. We have to make laws ourselves like, for example, "riot gear" is used by police ONLY in the event of RIOTS. (Hostage situations or REAL terrorism would qualify.) We need to reinstate the whole concept the corporate charter and override the precedents that have allowed corporations to act like citizens (they're not, and the idea that SCOTUS gave them that status is an urban myth based on a clerical error and corporate wishful thinking) - and isn't it convenient how they act like citizens when it serves their bottom line, but act like corporations when it doesn't. We have to correct this idiocy of money = speech. We have FREE speech in this country, which means FREE, i.e., it doesn't cost money, nor should those with money get more speech than the rest of us. And we have to evict K Street and WE have to make the laws that apply to lobbying, because this affects us directly and it is in our interest to fix it. Waiting for Congress to fix it is like waiting for the fox to declare the henhouse off-limits right before he raids it. Just how should citizens lobby and how far outside Washington can we legally require corporate lobbyists to work? Can we ban them from Capitol Hill entirely? Or should we set strict rules limiting their visits and phone calls? This should be up to US. And everything - everything - we want accomplished hinges on us fixing this problem. And, of course, we also must be able to recall Congress when they fail to do the job we gave them. The corporate-funded conventions and elections would look a lot different, and so would the police, if we did this.

I have a recurring dream...those citizens who still have a conscience (read intact mind & heart)
go to the polls with our own "paper ballots"...we have written in DENNIS KUCINICH for president & RALPH NADER for vice president.

Posted by: Anita | September 6, 2008 8:14 AM

This lady can still dream. Why can't you, Michael Winship?

As an anthropologist I'm always tempted to resort to cross cultural comparison. My examination of relative force leads me to believe that Establishment powers in our country feel the people and independent journalists are not a threat to their machinations. Compare their lackadaisical efforts to those of the Chinese at the Olympics, to the Myranmar police state, or the strategic assassinations of the Putin administration.

Most public opinion here, especially about the price in rights to maintain order, is equivocal. If you were thinking about marching on Washington Inauguration Day 2009, the pepper spray, teargas, brutality, electrical ties, booking and strip search, fines and bail will probably be enough to deter you. Cruelty and injustice has plenty of spectrum to escalate in response to rising distrust and discontent.

Our public seeks comfort food in its lazy boy under digital TV light. A hurricane must befall our nests before we awake. It is as if the hermetic snow globes in St. Paul and Denver exclude personal reality as they revolve like precious holograms. People are conditioned to reject the whole truth of lobbyist parties and fervent protesters.

Ideologically, material rights are rejected in favor of theoretical guarantees of security and privacy in a selectively quoted Constitution. Even under its best protection we retain the right to starve, thirst, freeze in winter, swelter in summer, be forever rejected from education and opportunity, and remain mute in our suffering all because we lack the means in a rigged game.

So when the miracle occurs that some of our citizens get beyond comparing meal deals, fashion discounts and diet plans: get beyond fretting over a monied retirement, a lottery win or a business coup that will never be; beyond posing and posturing before their amazed friends; and actually take non-violent action they are always met by greater force and become at best part of the circus, nuts on parade.

My observations lead me to believe though, that somewhere in the demographic is a tipping point, and that collective action beyond voting (I recommend half-hearted Obama and any viable non-incumbent this time.)has the potential for a socio-political punctuated equillibrium.

Maybe I have to hope that, resort to faith in humanity, because the alternative of a simultaneous cascade failure of nature and human society is too horrible to accept.

My lazy boy went to the curb this morning, and I am limiting my TV to Moyers and other shows that are thought provoking, and I'm now in training for a march on the Inauguration.

Think it through: Our common situation really is Do or Die. Break the snow globes and find they're filled with oil!

(Proustian reveries are part of the problem, Michael Winship.)

The reason the police are going after the independent press and individuals with any recording device is that this is the only group that is not owned by the corporate media. No reports of police action made it onto any major network.

The days of Mayor Daley (senior) and treatment of the press as it happened at the DNC in Chicago are still here. It's just that General Electric, Viacom or Mickey Mouse aren't interested in freedom of the press. Hell, why should they be? Just look at how much they have to pay for it!

Increasing police brutality is hardly a surprise. And until the false flag attack of 9/11 is exposed it will only continue to increase. The police state is on its way. The Democrats will not save you. Obama has shown repeatedly he fully approves of the police state.

Investiage 9/11. Expose the real terrorists.

Hmm, if the party we elected in 06, had a pair of balls to impeach Bush, we wouldnt be here. But NOOOO! after we elect to LIARS, WE have learn on 60 minutes, that "Impeachment" is "Off the table", Its was all a Power Grab! Lies, Lies, Lies! All the phones taps, spying and all other crimes could hanve been put on the jury stand, but we (the American People) were lied to again in 06, we were told by the DNC, they were going to go after Bush and Impeach him and take back America, but when the smoke cleared. It was all a lie, conspired to get a power grab and to fill the DNC's coffer. The leaders of the DNC aren't going after Bush, instead they are writing books, going on partisan talk shows, spending our money like a drunken sailor, all the awhile, we were being told that the DNC wasn't going to act like that!. I'm sick of being lied to by the DNC and the RNC,its all about POWER, nothing more, nothing less!

in a "red" state like Minnesota I thought the constitution would be upheld - free speech and freedom of the press are basic to a democracy - the last eight years of republican fear mongering has steadily erroded the rights of the people i.e. illegal phone tapping - this abuse of power against the independent press is just another example of our individual freedoms being compromised

Gee, people breaking windows destroying property and working people lives in danger, nah thats not whats important to PBS and the Leftist media, paid for by the DNC. Nah whats important is spin spin spin paid for by the DNC Money! So much for objective journalism, its all about POWER!!!

I too hope Bill Moyers will cover what was going on in the streets of Saint Paul Amy Goodman's report was chilling Why isn't this being covered on network news?

Pamela Stone, Santa Cruz, California

Thank goodness someone in the public media has paid attention to what was happening in the streets of St Paul instead of focusing only on the talking head bullspit that passes for journalism these days. I hope Bill Moyers will address this on his show. I doubt anyone else at PBS and NPR will bother. I have been a regular public broadcasting listener and viewer since the mid-1970s. I am becoming increasingly disillusioned with its news coverage.

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