Brendan pointed toward this on Friday. People have been talking about it in the comment threads for about two weeks. Now, I think, I have an answer from the local TV stations themselves about what happened (and didn't happen) to TV cameramen in downtown Seattle while they were covering the May Day protests.
I asked all of the stations in town whether any of their staff had been assaulted that day, and the only one to answer in the affirmative was KING 5.
"Yes," said the station's executive news director, Mark Ginther. "One photographer was struck on the side of his head." Ginther described the cameraman's injuries as "minor," and added that in a separate incident, "a reporter had to protect another photographer from a group."
I talked to that reporter. He's Gary Chittim, 53, and he's been at KING 5 for 12 years. He's currently an environmental reporter, but he covered the WTO protests in 1999 and was there on May Day—along with his cameraman, Keith Bubach—to help with the station's coverage. Elsewhere in the crowd was Richard DePartee, the KING 5 cameraman who was struck in the side of the head.
"We were just outside of Niketown," Chittim told me. "Everything was peaceful… They were painting a heart in the street... And then we saw a paint ball hit the upper window at Niketown, and then we swung the camera over there in time to see the big panes of glass come down. So we rushed over to a row of cars right in front of Niketown, and kind of used that for cover to lean the cameras on so we could get a steady shot. That was where the action was—the black clad protesters were in front of us, attempting to smash more windows out. They were running back and forth on each side of us, and after a few seconds, a hand came over my shoulder and reached [toward the photographer, Keith Bubach], underneath the camera from behind, where the battery is located, and tried to flip the camera up, off his shoulder, to get it to fall forward."
Chittim continued: "I turned to face them, and they made threatening gestures with their sticks. There was a whole row of them coming. While I put my hands out to block them, another hand reached in and did the exact same maneuver on the camera.”
The photographer, Chittim said, "was able to keep his balance, but it was tweaking his wrist. That happened at least four times. They shoved sticks at me. I put myself in a spread eagle position between them and the camera, and they thrust sticks at me. They were holding their banners and signs, but not really trying to hurt me. Trying to scare me. And they were not really trying to hurt the photographer. If they wanted to, he’s very vulnerable…. It was like a polished assault on the camera but not really directly on us.”
How does Chittim feel about the confrontation?
“I think they were trying to destroy the camera or stop us from filming or videotaping, but I don’t think they were trying to physically hurt us," Chittim said. "If they were, they were really bad at it... I mean, it was where I wanted to be. I wasn’t totally freaked out and scared. But it was frightening. At the time it was intimidating because I didn’t know how far they were going to go. I’ve been in a lot stickier situations, but it was up there.”
He was however, impressed with their efficiency.
“I was just surprised at how the whole minute—it lasted about a minute—how quickly they got it done and moved away," Chittim said. "And when I was pushing one guy away, I could feel he had body armor on—and how quickly they blended back into the crowd."
The attack on KING 5 cameraman Richard DePartee was different.
“He sort of accidentally wandered into the very beginning of the assault where they were kind of preparing last-minute instructions on what they were going to do, right before they got to Niketown," Chittim told me. "Somebody pointed him out, said ‘Camera-man!’ And they turned and got in a circle around him and sort of shoved him around a little bit. And they shoved the camera off of his shoulder, and he was cradling it at that point like a baby. And you can hear on the audio, he’s still asking to interview them. And it’s at that point that they used the end of a stick, and struck him straight on with it—poked him on the side of his face near his ear.”
Chittim said DePartee was bleeding, and ultimately had to get stiches, "but he kept working. He knew that if they really wanted to mess him up they could.”
As for the effectiveness of turning on the media, Chittim said: “I think it’s a bad idea. If they’re trying to send a message of fear, then what they’re doing was very capable of doing that just by letting us show [their window smashing]. And for them to turn on us was completely unexpected. I’m used to them usually wanting us there, and working around us.”
Another wrinkle in all of this is the SPD's demand for local media outlets to now turn over video of the May Day protests for use in prosecutions. I told Chittim that I wonder whether turning over raw, un-aired video to the police without a fight turns the media into an arm of the law in a way that could lead to more attacks on media by people seeking a confrontation with the law.
“I think that’s why we have the policy of not giving our raw materials to the police," Chittim said. "They have the best of our video already, what was on the air. And I don’t think that jeopardizes us. I think that’s why we don’t give them the raw.”
As for the SPD subpoenas demanding raw video, Chittim said: “I understand why they’re doing it. I hope it doesn’t make it harder for us.”