U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Broadcast reporter threatened, spat on by man at event with Michigan governor

Incident Details

Date of Incident
May 6, 2021


Was the journalist targeted?
September 10, 2021 - Update

Man who attacked Michigan TV reporters sentenced

The man who attacked two WPBN-TV journalists covering an outdoor bill signing by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in Greilickville, Michigan, was sentenced on Sept. 20, 2021, to one year of probation and $625 in fines for the assault, according to court documents reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

Michael Harrison repeatedly heckled the Michigan governor during her speech at the May 2021 event, then turned his attention to the journalists who were present, WPBN reported, grabbing and throwing reporter Natalie Spala’s microphone. As deputies from the Leelanau County Sheriff’s Office arrested him, Harrison spat on photojournalist Cortney Brown and her camera.

Harrison was charged with destruction of property, two counts of assault, and disturbing the peace.

May 6, 2021

An individual was caught on film assaulting a news team for NBC-affiliate UpNorthLive, based in Traverse City, Michigan. Video posted by the station shows the man throwing one of the news team’s microphones and spitting on a camera during an event with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on May 6, 2021.

The news team was covering an outdoor event in Greilickville, at which Whitmer signed a bill authorizing spending to protect Michigan’s natural resources, UpNorthLive News reported. The man first heckled the governor, shouting profanities during her speech and yelling “We don’t want you here,” before turning to criticize journalists covering the event, according to the broadcaster’s account.

UpNorthLive reporters Natalie Spala and Cortney Brown covered the signing and were scheduled to interview the governor right after, but the interview was canceled when officials escorted Whitmer away from the heckler to her car, the outlet reported.

According to UpNorthLive, the man “then turned his attention to the UpNorthLive news crew, asking if he should destroy the reporter’s [Brown’s] camera before taking a microphone and throwing it across the parking lot.” Spala's assault is documented here.

Leelanau County Sheriff’s deputies at the scene intervened and arrested the man immediately, but as he was being handcuffed he spat on Brown and the camera she was carrying.

“OK, that’s unnecessary,” Spala can be heard saying in the footage published by UpNorthLive.

Brown confirmed in a Facebook post that she was spat on and verbally threatened by the individual.

In an interview with the outlet, Sheriff Mike Borkovich said, “We have been in contact with this individual before, mostly regarding political-type things. I personally believe that’s not normally what he has done but I do think when you cross the line, people have to know that we will enforce the law.”

Neither of the reporters nor the station’s news director responded to emailed requests for comment.

The man was transported to the Leelanau County Correctional facility, where he was processed and charged with two counts of assault and battery and one count of malicious destruction of property, according to a Facebook post by the Sheriff’s Office.

UpNorthLive reported that the man, a 39-year-old Traverse City resident, was released on a $100 interim bond later that night.

Sheriff Borkovich told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that the arraignment of the arrested man was scheduled for June 8.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].