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Journalists face harassment while covering coronavirus

May 13, 2020

For journalists serving their communities during the pandemic, field reporting raises new health concerns as individuals protest stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines vary by region. Here, we’re documenting reports of journalists harassed while covering COVID-19-related protests and for wearing face masks while on assignment.

Incidents beyond harassment, such as assaults, arrests, damage to equipment or others will be captured in their respective categories.


May 18, 2020 | Protests & Masks

Reporter, photojournalist harassed for wearing masks while covering restaurant reopening

Two KARE11 News journalists were harassed for wearing masks while on assignment in Albany, Minnesota, on May 18, 2020.

Reporter Lou Raguse wrote on Twitter that he and his work partner — identified only as Craig — were covering the reopening of a local bar and restaurant for sit-down service in defiance of the state’s COVID-19 public health guidelines.

That morning, a judge had granted the state attorney general’s request for a temporary restraining order to keep Shady’s Hometown Tavern from opening at noon, as was planned. The owner decided to not defy the order and instead challenge it in court.

When Raguse and his partner arrived in the late morning, the crowd of 200 to 300 gathered in front of the restaurant had morphed from a gathering of supporters to a rally against the state’s coronavirus restrictions.

Several women began harassing Raguse and his partner for wearing masks. Raguse tweeted that he attempted to de-escalate the situation, but it only worked for a minute or two.

The women then began chanting “take it off,” as was captured by FOX 9 News at the scene, with one woman grabbing him as he walked away.

Raguse tweeted that, “Sensing the possibility of the crowd riling up, potentially surrounding me, I shook my head and wheeled back to where Craig was filming.”

Several other protesters approached Raguse after he walked away to affirm that wearing a mask was his choice and his right.

“To me, the issue that bothered me more than the mask confrontation was the general anti-press sentiment we received,” Raguse wrote. He also noted that it is company policy to wear masks “in these settings”.

Raguse, who could not be reached for comment, added that he’s experienced similar confrontations at rallies held across the political spectrum.

“No matter what problems you have with the press, I will just respond by saying most of us want to go out there and cover an issue fairly and make sure people of different viewpoints are represented,” Raguse wrote.


May 14, 2020 | Protests

Harassment of reporter at Long Island reopening protest is amplified by president on Twitter

Kevin Vesey, a reporter for News 12 Long Island, was harassed and insulted by numerous demonstrators while covering a reopening protest in Commack, New York, on May 14, 2020.

In a video Vesey shared on Twitter, many of the protesters can be heard shouting insults at him, including “You shouldn’t be here, you’re fake news,” “You’re destroying Suffolk and Long Island,” “You are the enemy of the people,” “You’re the virus,” and “Traitor.”

At one point the crowd begins to chant, “Fake news is not essential.” As Vesey’s video of the protesters gained national attention, President Donald Trump repeated that refrain in a retweet of it.

Vesey reported that some protesters attempted to prevent him from reporting live on Facebook and repeatedly invaded his personal space, ignoring his requests that they adhere to social distancing guidelines.

In his broadcast, Vesey can be heard repeatedly asking one such man to maintain social distancing.

“I think you need to back away from me, sir,” Vesey says.

The protester replies, “No. I got hydroxychloroquine. I’m fine.”

In a reflection on the incident, Vesey said, “It was aggressive, intimidating and at times potentially dangerous.”

“Since then I’ve received an overwhelming amount of support from all kinds of people, including fellow journalists, celebrities and elected officials.

Vesey, who could not be reached for comment, noted that while he has recovered from COVID-19, he continues to wear a mask in public.


May 5, 2020 | Masks

Reporters harassed for wearing masks while covering Trump’s visit to Arizona mask factory

Two reporters from The Arizona Republic and a news crew were harassed while awaiting President Donald Trump’s visit to a mask plant in Phoenix, Arizona, on May 5, 2020.

Republic reporter BrieAnna Frank told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that she arrived near the Honeywell plant at around 8 a.m., in advance of the president’s visit to the converted N95 mask factory.

As presidential supporters and critics began arriving on site about an hour later, Frank said she began asking if they would be willing to be interviewed.

After a group that identified as Trump supporters declined to be interviewed and started stating their opinions on the Republic, Frank said she walked away and planned to leave them alone.

However, the group immediately began accosting her and other reporters about their coverage of the president and alleged production of “fake news,” which Frank documented in a series of tweets.

The group also took issue with the reporters wearing masks.

“I said that my mother is a nurse and has been working with COVID patients lately, so I just try to do everything I can to protect myself and people around me,” Frank told the Tracker.

“That’s when they started giving me their opinions about masks not being effective, masks doing more harm than good, and then going into criticisms that I and the other journalists there wearing masks were doing so to seed into paranoia and panic.”

Frank said that wearing masks has been misconstrued as a political statement in the eyes of many. Trump did not wear a mask during his visit to the Honeywell plant, nor did Vice President Mike Pence don one while visiting the Mayo Clinic. Pence later said that he should have worn a mask.

Jamie Landers, also reporting for the Republic, told the Tracker that as soon as she arrived to meet up with Frank, a man nearby was telling someone in a car that the two reporters were with the Republic and that everyone should be careful about what they say. The man then turned to Landers and told her to “go to hell.”

When an NBC crew that had been on assignment left the area, they offered to walk Frank to her car. She stayed, she said, but didn’t realize that the crew was leaving because of harassment until she read an article by the Republic’s media critic.

Both Frank and Landers told the Tracker that at no point were they worried about their safety or the harassment escalating. They were in touch with their editors, they said, and would have left if they had felt unsafe.


May 1, 2020 | Protests & Masks

Ohio protester violates reporter’s request to maintain social distancing

A reporter for NBC4 Columbus covering stay-at-home protests at the Ohio capitol on May 1, 2020, says a protester refused to keep her distance, yelling in close enough range that she felt her spit.

Reporter Adrienne Robbins told NBC4 later that day that she and a photographer had arrived at the capitol to shoot video for their broadcast, and were standing on the outskirts of the protest.

“This woman immediately saw us and came up to us, and it seemed she just had a problem with the news media,” Robbins said.

A video of the woman interacting with Robbins shows her first asking whether Robbins is the station’s social media manager and how old she is.

According to a tweet posted by Robbins, the unidentified woman continued to follow her around and refused to step back when Robbins asked multiple times for her to observe social distancing guidelines. As a result, the woman was close enough that her saliva hit Robbins as she yelled at the reporter.

May 1 was the first day of Ohio’s “Stay Safe” order, ABC6 reported, which reopens much of Ohio’s economy but maintains requirements that residents wear face masks and maintain social distancing of at least six feet to avoid spreading the coronavirus.

A second video, captured by cleveland.com reporter Laura Hancock, shows the woman complaining to Robbins about her mask and accusing her and NBC News of lying about the coronavirus pandemic.

“Did you know that the company that you work for is lying to the American people?” the woman says on the video. “And you know that what you’re doing is wrong, at the end of the day. You know it!”

The woman also accused Robbins, NBC or both of terrifying the general public.

Gov. Mike DeWine’s spokesman Dan Tierney told cleveland.com that the incident had been reported to the Ohio Highway Patrol.

Robbins told NBC4 that she was doing well, and that though she had been concerned about the incident becoming physical, she understood that emotions were running high during the protest.

“But again, this is kind of the world that we’re living in,” she said.


April 24, 2020 | Protests

Multiple reporters, photojournalists harassed while covering reopen New Mexico protest

Reporters and photographers from multiple Albuquerque, New Mexico, broadcast stations reported being harassed by the same man while covering a reopening protest on April 24, 2020.

According to a tweet posted by KOB4 News reporter Kai Porter, he and a photographer — identified only as Jeremy — were documenting the rally in downtown Albuquerque when a man began harassing them.

“[He] became aggressive, & started yelling in my face, calling me ‘media scum,’” Porter wrote.

In the video shared by Porter, he can be heard asking the man to maintain social distancing. The man refused.

“No! C’mon, let’s see what happens here. I want to see how much of this bullshit you’re accepting and how much you’re destroying your family,” the man can be heard saying to Porter as the reporter attempted to walk away from him.

The unidentified man then turned and walked away.

Trevier Gonzalez, a KRQE News 13 photojournalist, replied to Porter on Twitter that the same man also harassed the KRQE crew, posting, “He came at us too.”


April 19, 2020 | Protests

Photographer coughed on by disgruntled California protester

Fox 11 News reported that while covering a protest in San Clemente, California, against the state’s shelter-in-place order, a demonstrator intentionally coughed on one of the station’s photographers.

According to the outlet, a crowd of hundreds gathered in downtown San Clemente on April 19, 2020, in defiance of social distancing guidelines. One of the protesters approached the Fox 11 photographer and deliberately coughed on them because the demonstrator “did not agree with news coverage,” according to the outlet.

Fox 11 reported that the photographer is expected to be OK.

A Fox News spokesperson told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that the photographer did not file a police report concerning the incident.

The Washington Post reported that appearing or threatening to spread COVID-19 has been prosecuted as a “terroristic threat” in Minnesota, Missouri and Pennsylvania. Similarly, individuals have been charged with assault for deliberately coughing on police or private citizens in Colorado, Florida, New York and South Dakota, among others.


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

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