Who’s A Journalist? (Take II)

Um, not Patrick Howley

I wrote Friday about how the arrests of reporters at the Occupy Wall Street protests raised questions about the NYPD press-credentialing process. In the case of one of the arrested journalists, Kristen Gwynne, a freelancer for Alternet, the issue was complicated by her open support for the protest. She did not really mind being arrested, she said, because she sympathized with the protestors and wanted to see how they were treated once in police custody. Alternet’s stated mission includes inspiring advocacy, and as such it is a different animal than, say, The New York Times. Still, you can’t have it both ways, and at the very least Gwynne’s case complicates the question of how police have treated the range of people at the protests who identify as reporters.

But in the case of Patrick Howley—an assistant editor at the American Spectator magazine who was pepper-sprayed while “covering” a protest at Washington’s Air and Space Museum over the weekend—there really is little to debate.

The Washington Post’s Suzy Khimm’s piece about the incident appeared under the headline: “Conservative Journalist Says He Infiltrated, Escalated D.C. Museum Protest”:

A conservative journalist has admitted to infiltrating the group of protesters who clashed with security at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum on Saturday—and he openly claims to have helped instigate the events that prompted the museum to close.

Patrick Howley, an assistant editor at the American Spectator, says that he joined the group under the pretense that he was a demonstrator. “As far as anyone knew I was part of this cause—a cause that I had infiltrated the day before in order to mock and undermine in the pages of The American Spectator,” Howley wrote. (The language in the story has since been changed without explanation.)

Howley, in his original article (available here), describes actions that went beyond those of his fellow protesters:

As the white-uniformed security guards hurried to physically block the entrances, only a select few—myself, for journalistic purposes, included—kept charging forward.

And later:

I was the only one who had made it through the doors. As two guards pointed at me and started running, I dodged a circle of gawking old housewives and bolted upstairs.

The tourist reaction within the museum—like the reactions of those on D.C. tour buses and sidewalks Saturday—was one of confusion and mild irritation.

Little wonder, since the museum was closed as a result of the incident.

After all that, Howley squanders his frat-boy derring-do and concludes by taking up the mantle of the Wall Street plutocrats and their supporters:

What began on Wall Street is now spreading, and the question still remains: is it dangerous?

What a waste of some truly courageous reporting!

The version of the story that remains posted on The American Spectator’s site is evolving and can be found here.

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Erika Fry is a former assistant editor at CJR.