Leave the cameras alone

  • Saturday, June 13, 2015 7:02pm
  • Opinion

They just don’t get it. Apparently, Secret Service agents found it necessary to block off cameras so they couldn’t be observed sweeping the White House press room after a bomb threat was called in during an afternoon briefing. Reporters were evacuated, although no one else was, not even the president, who was nearby. Agents and presumably their dogs looked (sniffed) around, and the explosive experts waved their detectors before the all-clear was given. I use the word “presumably” because I can’t say for sure.

They simply couldn’t resist their police impulse to stifle accountability. Somebody found it imperative to cover up the lenses of the news cameras that were left behind. To be clear, those were news cameras, owned by the networks, not the property of the White House, Secret Service or any branch of the government.

In other words, whoever blocked the shots had no business tampering with private property.

All they did was demonstrate the cop aversion to being shown doing their public duty. Say whatever you want, the agents are cops — and with all the mishaps that have embarrassed the agency, some people consider these guys keystone cops. Of course, they will argue that they didn’t want to reveal their tactics.

Big deal. The dogs did their thing, the humans searched and then they were done. Messing with news cameras is not part of the procedure. Or it certainly shouldn’t be. The problem is that whenever some policeman succeeds in blocking video of what he or she is doing, it’s too late, after the fact, when they’ve been reminded that their actions were illegal or at least inappropriate.

Obviously this is a sensitive area for those in law enforcement who have too often been exposed for abusive conduct. In the not-so-distant past those who were maliciously inclined could go about their bullying and not answer for it. Nowadays, as we know, their actions are recorded, and they don’t all like it — at least the bad ones don’t. The latest to grab our attention came when a policeman on the force of McKinney, Texas — a very white Dallas suburb — grossly overreacted to a minor flare-up involving black kids and a dispute at a swimming pool. Really piddling stuff. But the cop came roaring in, waving his gun and slamming a teenage girl to the ground for sassing him. He’s resigned now and apologized, through his attorney, who explained that he had just come from two emotionally wrenching calls and was distraught.

Taking him at his word, one can argue that maybe his supervisors need to develop procedures to prevent that kind of combustible, sometimes fatal mix. At least there was video to raise the issue.

In the case of the Secret Service at the White House, we don’t know if the people who did their thing in the briefing room were being hostile or just simply prefer to work in the shadows.

Of course, this administration is hardly enamored of media coverage; it goes to great lengths to stifle effective reporting, so it’s doubtful that any of those responsible for blacking out the video need to worry about getting in trouble. In fact, they might get quietly rewarded for sticking it to the news organizations.

In fairness, the Secret Service agents and their uniformed forces are taking a lot of heat right now. Between hookers in Colombia and fence jumpers, to say nothing of drunk higher-ups, the pristine image has gotten sullied. The latest embarrassment involves a young member of the first lady’s security detail. He was supposed to be one of the ever-vigilant protectors at a Michelle Obama event. Instead, he allegedly was flirting with some sweet young thing in the audience. He got caught after he sent some risque texts and asked for a date. All big no-nos. just like tampering with news cameras should be.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN

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