[Marxism] Cops and White House conspired to keep media out of Ferguson

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Nov 4 06:44:09 MST 2014


Police Targeted Media With No-Fly Zone Over Ferguson, Tapes Show
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
NOV. 2, 2014

WASHINGTON — The federal government agreed in August to a request by the 
police to restrict about 37 square miles of airspace over Ferguson, Mo., 
for 12 days for what they said were safety concerns, but audio 
recordings show that the local authorities privately acknowledged that 
the purpose was to keep away news helicopters during violent street 
protests.

On Aug. 12, the morning after the Federal Aviation Administration 
imposed the first flight restriction, the agency’s air traffic managers 
struggled to redefine the flight ban to allow commercial flights to 
operate at nearby Lambert-St. Louis International Airport and for police 
helicopters to fly through the area — while still prohibiting flights.

“They finally admitted it really was to keep the media out,” one 
administration manager said about the St. Louis County Police Department 
in a series of recorded telephone conversations obtained by The 
Associated Press. “But they were a little concerned of, obviously, 
anything else that could be going on.”

At another point, referring to the temporary flight restriction, a 
manager at the administration’s center in Kansas City, Mo., said the 
police “did not care if you ran commercial traffic through this T.F.R. 
all day long. They didn’t want media in there.”

The manager said there was “no option for a T.F.R. that says, you know, 
‘OK, everybody but the media is OK.’ ” The managers then developed 
wording that they felt would keep news helicopters out of the controlled 
zone but not impede other air traffic.

The conversations contradict claims by the St. Louis County Police 
Department, which has said the restriction was solely for safety and had 
nothing to do with preventing news media from witnessing the violence or 
police response to demonstrations after the shooting death of 
18-year-old Michael Brown.

The police said at the time, and again as recently as Friday, that they 
had requested the flight restriction in response to shots fired at a 
police helicopter.

But police officials confirmed that there was no damage to their 
helicopter and were unable to provide an incident report on the 
shooting. On the tapes, an F.A.A. manager described the helicopter 
shooting as unconfirmed “rumors.”

The A.P. obtained the recordings under a Freedom of Information Act request.

“Any evidence that a no-fly zone was put in place as a pretext to 
exclude the media from covering events in Ferguson is extraordinarily 
troubling and a blatant violation of the press’s First Amendment 
rights,” said Lee Rowland, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer 
specializing in First Amendment issues.

The F.A.A. administrator, Michael Huerta, said in a statement Sunday 
that his agency would always err on the side of safety. “F.A.A. cannot 
and will never exclusively ban media from covering an event of national 
significance, and media was never banned from covering the ongoing 
events in Ferguson in this case,” he said.

Mr. Huerta also said that, to the best of the agency’s knowledge, “no 
media outlets objected to any of the restrictions” while they were in 
effect.

In the recordings, an F.A.A. manager urged modifying the flight 
restriction so that airport-bound planes could enter the airspace over 
Ferguson.

The agency manager in Kansas City then asked a St. Louis County police 
official if the restrictions could be lessened so nearby commercial 
flights would not be affected. The new order allows “aircraft on final 
there at St. Louis. It will still keep news people out. The only way 
people will get in there is if they give them permission in there 
anyway,” so with the lesser restriction, “it still keeps all of them out.”

“Yeah,” the police official replied. “I have no problem with that 
whatsoever.”

Brian Thouvenot, the news director at KMOV-TV in St. Louis, told The 
A.P. that his station had been prepared at first to legally challenge 
the flight restrictions, but was later advised that its pilot could fly 
over the area as long as the helicopter stayed above 3,000 feet. That 
kept the helicopter and its mounted camera outside the restricted zone, 
although filming from such a distance, he said, was “less than ideal.”

None of the St. Louis stations were advised that news helicopters could 
enter the airspace even under the lesser restrictions, which under 
federal rules should not have applied to aircraft “carrying properly 
accredited news representatives.” The F.A.A.’s no-fly notice indicated 
the area was closed to all aircraft except the police and planes using 
the airport.

“Only relief aircraft operations under direction of St. Louis County 
Police Department are authorized in the airspace,” the notice said. 
Aircraft using Lambert-St. Louis Airport were exempt.

The day that notice was issued, Sgt. Brian Schellman, a county police 
spokesman, denied that the no-fly zone was to prevent news helicopters 
from covering the events. “We understand that that’s the perception 
that’s out there, but it truly is for the safety of pilots,” he told NBC 
News.

The Ferguson police were widely criticized for their response after the 
death of Mr. Brown, a black man who was shot by a white city police 
officer, Darren Wilson, on Aug. 9. Later, under county police command, 
several reporters were arrested, a TV news crew was tear gassed and some 
demonstrators were told they were not allowed to film officers. In early 
October, a federal judge said the police had violated demonstrators’ and 
news crews’ constitutional rights.

“Here in the United States of America, police should not be bullying and 
arresting reporters who are just doing their jobs,” President Obama said 
on Aug. 14, two days after the police confided to federal officials that 
the flight ban was secretly intended to keep the news media out. “The 
local authorities, including police, have a responsibility to be 
transparent and open.”

The restricted flight zone initially encompassed airspace in a 3.4-mile 
radius around Ferguson and up to 5,000 feet in altitude, but the police 
agreed to reduce it to 3,000 feet after the F.A.A.’s command center in 
Warrenton, Va., complained to managers in Kansas City that it was 
impeding traffic into St. Louis.

The flight restrictions remained in place until Aug. 22, federal records 
show. A police captain wanted it extended when officials were set to 
identify Mr. Wilson by name as the officer who had shot Mr. Brown and 
because Mr. Brown’s funeral would “bring out the emotions,” according to 
the recordings.

“We just don’t know what to expect,” the captain told the F.A.A. “We’re 
monitoring that. So, last night we shot a lot of tear gas, we had a lot 
of shots fired into the air again.

“It did quiet down after midnight,” the captain added, but “we don’t 
know when that’s going to erupt.”

A version of this article appears in print on November 3, 2014, on page 
A16 of the New York edition with the headline: Police Targeted Media 
With No-Fly Zone Over Ferguson, Tapes Show. Order Reprints|Today's 
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