Covering A Confrontation p. 20

By: M.L. STEIN MEDIA STAFFERS HAVE had dangerous confrontations with anti-government activists who are defying law enforcement officers near a remote Montana town.
Associated Press photographer Doug Pizac's camera was confiscated by the so-called Freemen, who boxed in his car as he and AP reporter Tom Laceky were driving on a public road near the ranch where the dozen militants are holed up.
Earlier, Sheriff Charles Phipps said the Freemen snatched camera equipment valued at $60,000 from an NBC crew and intercepted an ABC team, but no loss was reported.
Vehicles containing media representatives also were being stopped at FBI checkpoints, where identification was demanded. Agents said they were concerned about Freemen supporters smuggling in arms to them.
More than 100 FBI agents and Montana State Police have staked out a ranch 30 miles from Jordan (pop.444), where the heavily armed Freemen were defying demands to surrender on a number of criminal charges, including mail order fraud, writing bad checks and threatening public officials. The group set up what it called "Justus Township," issuing their own drivers' licenses, license plates and filing liens against neighboring properties and officials.
An estimated 200 or more journalists are camped out in or near Jordan in eastern Montana. The community has only one restaurant; the Hell Creek bar, where a number of media people gather because it also serves food; and two motels with a total of 24 rooms, most of which are occupied by federal agents.
The nearest "large" town is Miles City (pop. 10,000), 80 miles away, which also houses some press.
"It's a logistical nightmare for the media," said John Kuglin, AP Montana bureau chief in Helena. "The roads are terrible, and the weather has been real bad."
The AP contingent, he said, was staying at a ranch 20 miles from Jordan and some other reporters were living out of motor homes.
Kuglin said Pizac was shooting generic pictures of the surrounding countryside when a Freemen's car blocked his auto from the front while another drove in behind him.
The cameraman said the heavily armed men confiscated his camera but returned it when he met their demand to give them his film.
Recalled Laceky: "They pushed and slung us around a bit and yelled at us a lot, but they never pointed a gun. We left without a bruise." But not before they and their car were searched.
"We're convinced they were being polite by Freemen standards, Laceky commented. "But they said if we ever came back, they'll jail us for up to a year and a half for invading Justus Township."
The reporter said he had tried for weeks to arrange an interview with the Freemen through phone calls and intermediaries, and was rebuffed each time.
Added Kuglin: "When we try to phone them, they hang up after asking us to post a $1 million bond in case we misquote them."
Out of the media throng, in and around Jordan, one newswoman is not covering the Freemen story. She is Janet F. Guptill, publisher, editor and reporter of the weekly Jordan Tribune (circ. 650), and a local shopper.
In a telephone interview, Guptill said she will only print handouts by the U.S. Attorney's office and other official agencies on the siege.
"I've told dozens of media people who called from all over the world for information that I'm not covering for my own paper, why should I cover for you?" she recounted. "You're lucky you caught me in a better mood," she told E&P.
In an editorial explaining her decision to readers, Guptill wrote in part: "I will not make any attempt to print the rumors, the street gossip, or the innuendoes that are floating on the telephone, the conversations at any gathering, including church, or what seems to come around through plain hot air and the pleasure some get from hearing their own voices on the subject.
"That type of 'history' that some seem to want recorded will have to come from those who want to make a name for themselves" by writing sensational stories.
Guptill contended that getting facts on the standoff is virtually impossible and that she does not want to "badger" officials while they are working to resolve the problem.
Estimating that there were about 250 media people in Jordan and the vicinity, she described them as "obnoxious and pushy."
"Why," she asked, "do all of ABC's affiliates have to be here? Can't the network cover for them?"
She also suggested that AP could report for individual newspapers, thus cutting down on the press presence.
Guptill expressed fear that the media attention will destroy "our culture, our heritage and our way of life. We're being labeled."
The publisher directed additional wrath at the Freemen's "scumbag" sympathizers who have arrived from out of town.
Guptill said she personally knows the Freemen, along with 95% of the other residents in the county. Four years ago, she recalled, she sided with their demand to obtain the minutes of County Commission meetings, which were being withheld.
However, in a recent statement she read on CNN, Guptill stated: " . . . it is my hope that the situation can end peaceably and that those charged, if found guilty in the courts, will be punished."


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