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  1. Florida Politics

Journalists wary as attacks on media rise

Published Oct. 29, 2018

NEW YORK — The hostility she's felt from the public recently wasn't necessarily the last straw in television news photographer Lori Bentley-Law's decision to quit the business after 24 years, but it was one of them.

Bentley-Law's recent blog post explaining why she was leaving Los Angeles' KNBC-TV hit home for many colleagues. While President Donald Trump's attacks on the media are usually centered on national outlets like CNN and the New York Times, the attitudes unleashed have filtered down to journalists on the street covering news in local communities across the country.

When a president describes the press as enemies of the people, "attitudes shift and the field crews get the brunt of the abuse," she wrote. "And it's not just from one side. We get it all the way around, pretty much on a daily basis."

The Radio Television Digital News Association is spreading safety and self-defense tips to journalists, most notably advising limits on the use of one-person news crews. The RTDNA has begun compiling anti-press incidents, like last week when an intruder was shot after kicking down glass doors at Fox's local station in Washington. The National Press Photographers Association is developing workshops to spread safety advice to its members.

CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta made news last week by saying Trump's attacks on the media "have got to stop" because he feared someone would get hurt. He's been the target of chants and epithets when covering Trump rallies, including one recently where a man looked at him and made a motion like he was slitting a throat. Since then, three suspicious packages have been addressed to separate CNN offices.

While the examples of Acosta and others who follow Trump are most visible, there are other, more private examples that happen across the country — like when Chris Post, a photographer for WFMZ-TV in Allentown, Pa., arrived to cover an immigration rally and a man in a car asked him where he was going.

Told it was a pro-immigration rally, the man became agitated and stepped on his accelerator, stopping just short of hitting Post and giving him a self-satisfied look, Post recalled.

"I'm 6-foot-5, 300 pounds," he said. "I've had somebody try to grab my camera. When it gets to that point, where does it stop?"

Bentley-Law was startled when the essay on leaving her job got 11,000 hits in three days, and was flooded with texts and emails from frustrated journalists across the country. She usually counts readers to her personal blog in the dozens. "I suppose my experience isn't unique and certainly resonated," Bentley-Law, who declined to be interviewed, said via email.

So far this year the RTDNA's "press freedom tracker" counts 39 incidents of journalists being attacked, including the June 28 shooting at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md., where five people were killed. In less lethal examples, a man purposely crashed a pick-up truck into the side of a Dallas television station, a Miami reporter and a photographer were physically attacked while doing a live shot and a North Carolina crew had its power cable cut.