Commentary: Journalism is a dangerous profession

By Alan Mueller

It is the duty of reporters to go where authorities do not want them to be and where there is danger and disorder. It is their duty to ask questions and report facts that powerful people would sometimes prefer not to answer or have reported. Sometimes, their management backs them up, sometimes not.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that 1,370 journalists were killed between 1992 and 2020. Many hundreds more were beaten or imprisoned.

Many of us probably want to believe that this doesn’t happen in the United States. But nationwide protests beginning with the police murder of a citizen in Minneapolis have revealed a widespread pattern of attacks on reporters and support staff. (Just do a search for “attacks on reporters.”)

Many of these appear to be targeted attacks, reflecting “law enforcement” hostility toward the media. Niemanlab.org reports, “As of Monday morning, there had been at least 90 police attacks against U.S. journalists covering the protests.”

On May 29, a CNN reporter in Minneapolis was arrested on camera although his behavior and professionalism appeared impeccable. Later, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz apologized repeatedly and with seeming sincerity.

However, attacks on reporters have continued in Minnesota and elsewhere. Has Gov. Walz issued any directives to the various police and National Guard forces under his control to respect the constitutional rights of reporters to report? Is he insincere in his statements? Or are the police forces out of effective control of civil authority?

It is, of course, no secret that Trump repeatedly attacks journalists individually and the profession of journalism as a whole. Reporting he doesn’t like is “fake news.” He says the media are the “enemy of the people.” At his press conferences, he shouts and rants in response to embarrassing questions. He incites hate and violence among his followers. And, shamefully, Trump seems to have a significant following among law enforcement personnel.

Certainly, the head of the Minneapolis police union is a big Trumper. So, part of the problem is Trump’s incitement, but this can’t be the whole story.

Reporters, if they do their work well, hold up mirrors for us to see ourselves as we really are. The racism, injustice and inhumanity prevailing in the United States is not pleasant to see. It feels as if the forces of darkness are trying to break the mirrors.

There is an image online of a bleeding reporter, Linda Tirado, shot in the eye with a rubber bullet in Minneapolis. It’s horrifying but we need to look at it and think.

Alan Muller is executive director of Green Delaware, a community-based organization working on environment, public health, and democracy/open government issues.