By: Rachel La Corte, Associated Press Writer
(AP) Police preparing for large and potentially violent protests during trade talks here next week are borrowing a tactic from the Pentagon: They are offering to “embed” reporters in police squads.
Reporters have long been known to do ride-alongs with police or accompany them on busts. Police Chief John Timoney said his embedding plan would take journalists a step further, by placing them on the front lines of a protest expected to draw tens of thousands of people.
The embedding is believed to be the biggest use of embedded reporters for a large-scale U.S. police operation.
“This is not the case of a camera crew or reporter showing up just as something is breaking,” Timoney said. “It’s not just a snapshot. You get the whole before, during and after. You get a clearer picture and a better story. I think we win in the long run.”
Trade officials from 34 countries will discuss creating a free trade area that will cover all of the Western Hemisphere except Cuba.
The protests are expected to draw tens of thousands of people. Police want to be prepared for the kind of violence that broke out during the World Trade Organization talks in Seattle in 1999. Those riots cost the city about $3 million and resulted in 500 arrests and accusations that police overreacted.
The news organizations invited to participate in the embedding include The Associated Press, NBC, Reuters, The Miami Herald, CNN, Fox and several TV stations. The police are still drawing up the rules reporters must follow, so individual organizations have not officially agreed yet to participate.
Several local and national news organizations would be assigned to bicycle squads, a Coast Guard cutter and other units assigned to the protest during the Free Trade Area of America talks that begin Nov. 17.
Earlier this year, hundreds of journalists were embedded with troops during the war in Iraq. Timoney said he was not influenced so much by Iraq as his experience in Philadelphia, where as police commissioner he allowed reporters to be embedded during the Republican National Convention in 2000.
Timoney said that reporters can leave the arrangement any time they like, and that police are not attempting to influence their stories.
Some media watchers have questioned why reporters would want to participate.
“Journalists are supposed to be independent gatherers of information,” said Robert Jensen, associated professor of journalism law and ethics at the University of Texas at Austin. Embedding “is going to put journalists in the police view of the world. “
He added: “At least in a war theater you can make the arguments that there is no other way for journalists to have access to the battlefield. I don’t think that analogy holds on the streets of Miami.”
The journalists will be responsible for their own safety and will be required to have a riot helmet and gas mask. Journalists are also required to sign a release form as well as agree not to report on such things as the number of officers in a unit or how many units are participating in an event.
The Herald will participate unless its reporters are asked to sign something that unreasonably restricts their reporting ability, said Executive Editor Tom Fiedler. He said he does not believe the media lose their neutrality by embedding with police.
The practice “in no way makes us allies of law enforcement,” he said. “Rather than being the allies, we are the monitors of law enforcement authorities.”
Kevin Walsh, Florida bureau chief for The Associated Press, said: “We’re going to wait to make a decision until we have the opportunity to review the full package of release forms and reporting rules being put together by police.”