In the chaos of the attack on the Capitol two days ago, some important stories have gotten a bit buried. One story that's not getting the attention it should—ironically, because journalists usually do everything they can to not make themselves the story—is the violent attacks on the press that took place.
New York Times staff photographer Erin Schaff described her harrowing experience in a Twitter post shared by her colleague Emily Cochrane.
In Schaff's words:
"Grabbing my press pass, they saw that my ID said The New York Times and became really angry. They threw me to the floor, trying to take my cameras. I started screaming for help as loudly as I could. No one came. People just watched. At this point, I thought I could be killed and no one would stop them. They ripped one of my cameras away from me, broke a lens on the other and ran away.
But then the police found me. I told them that I was a photojournalist and that my pass had been stolen, but they didn't believe me. They drew their guns, pointed them and yelled at me to get down on my hands and knees. As I lay on the ground, two other photojournalists came into the hall and started shouting "She's a journalist!"
the fact that @erinschaff experienced THIS and still filed photos and wrote about makes me want to cry all over aga… https://t.co/nYwfhObRGf— Emily Cochrane (@Emily Cochrane) 1610078634.0
Another photographer, John Minchillo from the Associated Press, was physically assaulted, with the attack being caught on video. Some in the crowd seemed to think he's part of ANTIFA, despite him clearly and repeatedly pointing out his press credentials. At one point, he is violently thrown over a wall and you can hear someone yelling that they were going to kill him, but he thankfully was escorted away without injury.
The AP, which is known for being one of the least biased, most factual news outlets, had a bunch of their equipment destroyed by the mob, who chanted "CNN sucks" while destroying it. You'd think the big "AP" stickers on some of the equipment would have offered a clue that it was not CNN's, but no one is accusing these folks of being the sharpest pencils in the pack.
Outside the Capitol, pro-Trump protesters are smashing cameras and other media equipment yelling “CNN sucks!” One… https://t.co/8TF028ZltW— Christal Hayes (@Christal Hayes) 1609971886.0
Here's another video of media equipment being smashed by people in the crowd to a chilling chorus of "F*ck you!"
BREAKING : Pro Trump Radicals are attacking Journalists and Media Crews outside Capitol. Trump has incited against… https://t.co/ogxcoS44ET— Joyce Karam (@Joyce Karam) 1609971521.0
And just to add to these disturbing and disgusting attacks, someone scrawled the words "Murder the Media" on a door of the U.S. Capitol. Lovely.
5. The events at the Capitol on Thursday further diminished U.S. press freedoms ... not just the assault on John Mi… https://t.co/iPx8trSTaO— Peter Adams (@Peter Adams) 1610127214.0
It should be crystal clear to anyone who values democracy that an attack on the free press is never okay. The freedom of the press is enshrined in the first amendment of the Constitution, and since the people who stormed the Capitol building were attempting to put themselves in the place of our duly elected government, their attacks on the press were an attack not just on the individuals and media outlets involved, but on the Constitution itself.
It shouldn't be surprising that people who have been told pretty much daily that the news media is the "enemy of the people" would eventually take that rhetoric seriously. This is exactly what people who criticized the president's extreme language warned would eventually happen.
People can have legitimate criticisms of media companies while still recognizing that the journalists working on the ground are heroes of democracy who put themselves into harm's way to keep us informed about what's happening in the world. These are people who document history as it happens. They are the eyes and ears of the people, and without them we would truly be living in darkness.
Attacks on the free press are attacks on democracy itself and should be called out as such. And the fact that these attacks came not from some outside terrorist group, but from a group of American citizens violently attacking an entire branch of our federal government, should be a huge wake-up call about where we are and the extremist rhetoric that led us here.
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