Thursday, May 25, 2017

I've been shoved by Coleman Young and punched in the face but I've never been body slammed

Coleman Young

It was Election Day 1980 and Jimmy Carter had just completed his final campaign gaggle with reporters at Detroit Metro Airport, his co-campaign chairman Detroit Mayor Coleman Young by his side.

After wrapping up the availability and hopping back on Air Force One, the traveling press corps trailing behind, Young turned to the local reporters to answer our questions.

I can't recall what mine was but that's not particularly important to know. What is important is that he was furious with me.

"Who are you?" he demanded, as if he didn't know.

"Are you that reporter who provided that Japanese photographer with all those pictures?"

And then he shoved me.

I wasn't hurt. I also wasn't dissuaded from trying to get my answer. I wasn't even angry about the shove.  What I was angry about was that he apparently thought shoving me would stop me from doing my job.

So after stumbling back a couple steps I stepped back up toward him. My microphone extended toward his face. My intent was to ask the question again in the hope that this time he'd answer me.

I never got the chance. His security detail, apparently concerned I would use my microphone as a weapon against the mayor, grabbed me.  And that was that.

As it turns out he had every reason to be upset with me. But he had no right to touch me.

Months before I'd walked into the Public Information office at Detroit Police Headquarters to find a Japanese news photographer there. He was on assignment for Asahi Graphics Magazine. And was doing a feature on the Detroit Police Department.

He wanted to ride along in a police car. The sergeant in charge would have none of that.  But he did have a suggestion.

"Why don't you ask Baumgarten here if you can ride with him?" he suggested. "He usually gets to the scenes before we do anyway."

So as a professional courtesy I let him ride along with me. And as a result he got very graphic photos of scenes he would never get access to had they just honored his request and let him ride along.

We're talking bloodied victims. Lifeless bodies. The kind of images they eat up in news magazines in Japan but that credible news organizations in the United States would never publish.

It didn't exactly help a city and its mayor trying to improve Detroit's image. Crime was a big and continuous story. One radio station famously would for years report homicides by ringing the "Motor City Murder Meter."  So I understand Mayor Young's frustration with the news coverage in general and with me specifically.

The only time I came close to getting seriously injured was when a gang leader who didn't want me interviewing neighbors punched me in the face. This happened after one of his crew shot the head of the neighborhood watch after he asked them to turn down their radio. I went to the hospital for treatment but in retrospect, a fist to the face is far more preferable to the gunshot the community leader got.

But I've never been body slammed by a politician.  

What happened to Guardian newspaper reporter Ben Jacobs at the hands, literally, of Montana Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte is beyond reprehensible.  

There has been a continuous rhetoric against the news media lately. Some of the criticism is probably justified. But the rhetoric implication at political gatherings that violence against journalists is acceptable and the acting out of violence is not acceptable.  

Some people are already attempting to politicize this assault. That's either a mistake or a deliberate partisan attempt to capitalize on Gianforte's behavior.

There are many other less publicized examples of threats and assaults on journalists. And reporters and photographers being detained or even arrested for doing their jobs.

No, this is not Turkey where opposition journalists are charged with terrorism. Or Mexico where journalists reporting on the drug cartels get killed.

But what happened last night in Montana is reflective of a disturbing trend. None of us, no matter our political leanings, should tolerate it.

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