Friday, March 26, 2010

The mess that is the press

Well the story of my confronting a Palo Alto police officer over the right to take photographs in a public setting is in today's Palo Alto Daily Post. What a mess they made of it.

"Dispute over Pix"
by Austin Walsh, Palo Alto Daily Post

"Bystanders cheered when a police officer yesterday told a retired photographer to back away while taking pictures of a man who had fallen and injured himself on a downtown Palo Alto street, according to police. The photographer, Bob Holmgren of Menlo Park, said he didn't violate any laws, but claimed the officer told him that backing away would be the moral thing to do.

Holmgren, 64, said that he called 911 immediately after the man fell outside Lytton Roasting Company coffee shop at Lytton Avenue and Waverley Street at 10:20 am yesterday. Holmgren then began taking pictures and continued to snap away when medics arrived a prepared to take the man to Stanford Hospital. Holmgren said he decided to take the pictures in case the man wanted to sue.

A police spokeswoman, officer Marianna Villaescusa, confirmed that officer Nanell Newbom told Holmgren to back off, and that the bystanders cheered. Vallaescusa said she couldn't confirm that Newbom had asked Holmgren to pull back on moral grounds, but said the officer had legal ground to have him get out of the way of medics. "II didn't hear any cheering when she asked me to back up," said Holmgren "and if there was a comment about interfering, I would have complied." Holmgren added that he was using a zoom lens which allowed him to stay more than 10 feet away."

Here's what's wrong:
1. They had their own reporter on the scene from the beginning. The reporter told me today that she doesn't remember hearing anyone cheer. There goes their lede. People cheered--so what, I don't expect people to know their legal rights in such a situation--I do. The issue is whether I have the legal right to take photos. If people indeed cheered--confirmed by no one--who knows the reason for their behavior unless someone asks. No one asked. Suppose they booed the officer. You think a police spokesperson would use that on my behalf? Perhaps as their last official act.
UPDATE: I've asked the woman who was attending to the person who was injured about whether she heard anyone cheer--she doesn't. Thus far only the police officer heard cheering while 3 others at the scene report no such activity.

2. I was never told to back up. It was requested that I stop taking pictures. I don't have a legal right to stand in a particular spot and I know that. My claim had solely to do with the right to take photos in a public place. What kind of idiot refuses to back up when asked by a police officer? What kind of idiot reporter refuses to report my version of events but happily tells readers what someone not there thought happened?

3. My cell phone recorded the 911 call at 10:06 not 10:20. If we accept their timeline--also confirmed by police--I called before the accident happened. So much for press and police accuracy, but it is a step in the direction of time travel. I'm putting in for either a Pulitzer or Nobel prize.

4. I told the reporter that it wasn't necessary to give a reason for the photos but among the possible uses would be for their news value or for a potential lawsuit. This got interpreted to mean that I was only looking to support a lawsuit.

6. A police spokesperson is in no position to confirm what an officer said. Why not ask for confirmation that I was always at least 10 feet away, or that I was obligated to listen for cheers to determine how to respond. The spokesperson can't assert knowledge in one instance and not another without it becoming obvious that she simply prefers one narrative over another.

UPDATE: The paper published my letter in response. End of story.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Did you ever find out if the man turned out ok?