T Dog’s Think Tank: Terminating the right to report: could it happen?

A bizarre scene unfolded Saturday afternoon at a West Side hospital involving WGN-TV reporter Dan Ponce, a WMAQ-TV cameraman, and the Chicago police.

Three local stations and four cameramen were at Mt. Sinai Hospital to file reports from the place on camera after a six-year old girl was gunned down in Chicago’s Little Village (South Lawndale) neighborhood earlier in the day. The police officer asked the news media to move off the sidewalk in front of the hospital, which they did – right on to the median of Ogden Avenue. A few minutes later, the police officer decided to put Ponce and WMAQ cameraman Donte Williams into handcuffs:









Both men were released after only ten minutes and the hospital security staff, which called police to complain  about reporters trying to enter private areas of Mt. Sinai (which was not true), declined to press charges.

The press involved remained professional throughout this whole ordeal. Here’s the quotage from those involved, including WGN news director Greg Caupto (via CRM): “The WGN reporter and photographer were at all times conducting themselves professionally and properly. They did not enter the hospital grounds and they did nothing to antagonize any hospital security or Chicago Police.”

Here’s a statement from the Chicago Police Department (via TV Spy): “The Chicago Police Department did not charge anyone with criminal trespass in connection with yesterday’s incident, which involved the unfortunate and senseless loss of a young child. We removed two individuals from the hospital at the request of hospital security guards, who asserted that the individuals had tried to go past them into secure and private areas of the hospital. The security guards declined to press charges and the individuals were released. Our members were attempting to protect and respect both the grieving family members of the child, and the memory of the child herself during a very stressful time for all parties involved.”

This is what Dan Ponce posted on his Facebook page:Crazy. My photographer and I weren’t trespassing, we didn’t speak to ANY member of the victim’s family, nor did I say ANYTHING rude to this officer…”

Also on Facebook, Donte Williams had this to say: “In my profession, I expect to encounter hostile environments but I would’ve never expected this to happen to Dan Ponce, myself or any other journalist or PERSON for that matter simply for being on a public sidewalk with a camera. The officer stated our 1st amendment right could be terminated. Really?”

Really, indeed. First Amendment rights terminated? Is Chicago becoming the former Soviet Union? What police did to those members of the press was disgraceful. The real question is, why did the security guards call the police to begin with? The media was nowhere near private areas of the hospital. As for Barney Fife here, his unprofessionalism isn’t a surprise – after all, this is the corrupt Chicago Police Department we’re dealing with. Was this moron trained at the 21 Jump Street academy with Jonah Hill? This officer makes those two cops from the movie look like seasoned veterans by comparison. Or the cops from Chicago Code.

But the biggest loss here is the unfortunate death of a six-year girl because of gang violence  – one of ten people killed and nearly forty shot over this weekend (and the violence wasn’t just limited to Chicago – five teens were shot in downtown Indianapolis Saturday night – just weeks after successfully hosting the Super Bowl.)

As of this writing, only three arrests were made in this weekend’s mayhem – while Chicago Police detained two members of the news media for doing their job despite complying with their orders.

Chicago has been nothing but a national and international embarrassment over the last several years: I explain so in these past Think Tanks here, here, here, here, and here. But I guess its business as usual in this city when it comes to the hizzoner – we’ve simply gone from one dictator to another – one now run by Rahm “Sheldon Cooper” Emanuel (A Big Bang Theory reference.) Oh yes, under his roommate agreements, your First Amendment rights could be terminated and if you don’t comply, you’ll be locked in an apartment with Leonard and Amy FaraFowler (and that’s worse than jail.)

Yes, the local news media in Chicago – in television, radio, and print, is home to some of the most sensationalistic reporting on the planet – especially on crime, which often dominates local newscasts and news websites. But still, many of these reporters and equipment crew work under heinous conditions to bring us the story each and every day. And thanks to the First Amendment – freedom of the press – they had every right to be there.

And the Barney Fife clone at Mt. Sinai wanted to terminate their First Amendment rights?

Instead of patrolling our streets, maybe this officer should work security for the Parents Television Council.