When you mess with reporters

I’ve always admired the way reporters come together when a reporter is messed with. It reminds me of the way the police engage in a big show of force when a policeman is killed.

Once when running a quick errand, I found that I’d put myself on the other side of an hour-long police funeral procession. It did not endear the police to me, but it did make a powerful statement that the police are not just willing to make people suffer when a policeman is killed, they want to make everyone suffer. They think it gets the incentives right. They think if everyone suffers just a little bit when a policeman is killed, everyone will have just a little bit more interest in keeping that from happening.

I think that sort of tactic is ill-advised—almost all people are much more strongly motivated by decency and compassion than they are by intimidation. But I understand that the police are motivated more by grief than by thinking a show of force will make a difference. Their legitimate feelings make it hard to argue with their tactic, even when its results will be mixed.

Reporters are better at being circumspect and targeted with their reaction, but when anybody within the power structure messes with a reporter, a vast swath of the journalistic community sits up and takes notice. They write stuff about what happened. They point out governmental overreach. They remind one another that they’re all on the line if this goes unchallenged—and they remind ordinary people that the same powers being used against reporters are available to be used against ordinary people.

It’s really good to see. It’s not perfectly effective, but it is effective.

It’s the right response.

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