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Somewhere, With an iPhone

Waiting for Redemption

by LISA BARR

Please tune in to a livestream from Montrose, PA, tonight.   It’s important.

In the future, other journalists who want to actually cover that god-awful place should be able to do so in peace.  I really wasn’t interested so much in what they are doing.  I was, however, enraged to see them manhandle a citizen journalist’s equipment and send her to the back of the room with her inconspicuous, small tripod.  And her person.  Members of the audience had falsely claimed that she blocked their view of their insipid borough council members as a pretext to harass her.

And it worked.

For a time.

Then my sister, a Pennsylvania attorney, filed an injunction  against their enforcement of a draconian list of rules for public hearings consistent with the fact that goons openly spied upon and tried intimidating people attending the premier of Josh Fox’s GASLAND at the theatre down the street from the courthouse nearly 2 years earlier.  I could sense the repression there on President’s Day (Monday, February 20).

It was dark.

There were no fewer than 5 cops seemingly waiting to arrest me had I walked in, rolling (not on drugs, but on an iPhone 4GS), to videotape a ‘government gone mad’ story thread I’ve documented since December:  local government indifference to the Dimock residents on Carter Road whose water was damaged by gas wells.  The people were profiled first by Josh Fox in Gasland but they make the rounds enough , and are abused so frequently as to offer unique angles that need explaining by many, many, citizen journalists.  And we need more people to tell the story of how plutocracy peters out in this twilight of our ‘democracy’; in this last exploitation of the Iroquois Confederacy’s colonized land, and, yes, in this last gasp of our planet lest we stop this carbon-fueled insanity.

I could not afford, on many levels, to have another criminal charge lodged against me.

So I stayed outside

I looked in the front window and saw cameras on tripods in the back of the room.

I’ve already been delayed by about one month in producing my documentary trailer so as to try fundraising to sustain me while I market the documentary, enter it in contests.  I also was delayed in fundraising for my anti-frack CSA.  I was delayed in sprouting my organic seeds, and in doing the necessary paperwork for organic certification this season.  That’s because I was attacked while covering a meeting regarding a moratorium on fracking on January 25th and then charged by NY State Police who seemed to feel that whomever ‘got to them first’ was the victim.

Let that sink in, please.

So, on President’s Day, in Montrose, PA,  I stood outside the meeting, or sat in my car with my dog while cops smirked.  Or lurked behind another car while I interviewed a man outside.  Or came up to my window and knocked on it.

“What’s your name?” asked a sergeant who should have been on patrol but had attended the meeting “In case they need me,” he said, grinning.

“What does it matter what my name is?  You’re denying me my First Amendment rights–that’s all you need to know,”  I said.  And I know he knew who I was.

Well, he said, “If we can be of further assistance, let us know.  You’re welcome to come inside the (police) station around the back and get warm.”

Fake niceness.  The American Way.

So, of course, I missed the story–got zero video of the citizens and indy journalists being harassed inside.

But, once there, I discovered there was a good story–as there always is in the town hall meetings woefully neglected the past 35 years of deregulated radio news (as goes radio–so goes the rest of the newsrooms).

I wanted to know not only whether Montrose Borough officials would stop the sale of water to Craig Sauntner for delivery to the 11 Dimock families not receiving water from the EPA.  Only 4 families–including the Sauntners–are getting EPA water.  I wanted to hear Borough officials cut off sales to all but the gas companies.  I wanted to videotape the ‘give and take’–you know, the trappings of ‘democracy’.

I couldn’t do that.

Forgive the alliteration, but, the Valentine’s Day  media massacre in Montrose means that journalists must:

*Use a tripod;

*Stand ONLY in the back of the room;

* Not move for a better (or a different)angle;

*Leave their equipment on the tripod and let it roll without adjustment;

*Not ask any questions (seriously!);

*Not videotape any “private” conversations during the public hearing;

Yes.

WTF? 

You get it.

The next day, Tuesday, February 21, my sister was granted a Monday, February 27th  hearing for injunctive relief on my behalf that will feature the testimony of other regional journalists.

I suspect there is a concerted effort led by a pro-drilling outfit to promote such assholery against the fifth estate.    And I’d like to get a posse of people together to FOIA all regional public officials, big fish and small, regarding any contacts they’ve had with industry.

We’ll need help.

And a sense of humor.

My life the past 30 days is a good example of how big a sense of humor we’ll need.

On January 25, I was assaulted by a member of a group that  doesn’t want to be covered as it tries to interrupt reasoned discussion regarding how to safeguard our commons from fracking.  As it tries to intimidate members of local town boards recently elected/re-elected largely to oppose plans to frack Upstate New York and further defile Northeastern Pennsylvania.

They’re planning to build a huge network of pipelines to carry shale gas for liquification–and to send ‘natural’ gas to places they had never ever piped it before.  And it reeks of shady deals that may not qualify technically for the title of ‘corruption’ but don’t seem to be done in a very forthright manner.

I’m not alone in being targeted by this gangland mentality that sends videocamera-wielding grandmothers like Vera Scroggins to the back of the meeting room bus, that sends sent bigger-city television news crews like WBRE-TV from Wilkes Barre reeling across parking lots–all at the hands of elected officials, with possible strategizing help from the gas industry?

Time, and the FOIA, will tell.

But the clock’s ticking madly on this giant pyramid scheme masquerading as ‘energy policy’ and the drill and pipeline supporters (some of them elected officials!) are facing massive unpopularity in these parts.  They’re getting desperate enough to verbally and physically assault journalists.  So, I’m wondering:  Why didn’t WBRE-TV’s attorneys sue on behalf of their pummeled news crew?  Why is the station’s response a website that allows trolls to suggest that pointing a camera toward a newsmaker is putting it ‘in his face‘ and that assaulted journalists “(bring) this on themselves,”?  Journalist Joe Holden wins my support with this online retort (if he actually wrote it):

“…Samantha S. – I’ve been doing this for a long time. No one is allowed to place his/her hands on another. And I’ll be [censored] if I’m going to take this kind of [censored] from elected officials no less. And just because my photographer didn’t catch me getting body-checked, another affiliate’s camera will show it.

Oh, and about us telling both sides of the story, perhaps you could encourage your councilmen to return phone calls. We’ve been trying to get their side for a week now. Absolutely pathetic…?

I had’t met Joe Holden before our injunction hearing February 27th.  I wanted to hear the Scranton television reporter tell the judge his story.  I secretly hoped he would cuss in what I considered a  lovely “I’m a JOURNALIST, dammit!” phrase:

“AND I’LL BE [CENSORED] IF I’M GOING TOTAKE THIS KIND OF [CENSORED] FROM ELECTED OFFICIALS NO LESS.”

  Joe Holden, WBRE-TV

Turns out it was just Catholic school cussing (‘crap’ and ‘damn’) that the website had bracketed in [Censored] –but it was something.  Contrast Holden’s foul, seasoned outrage with the really likable documentary journalist Josh Fox’s lack of outrage as he was calmly arrested in the House Science, Space and Technology Committee by Harris-the-politician a week after my problem with Harris-the-car-dealer -who-advertises-a-lot -in-my-local-newspaper –the one that ignores my journalist and my academic credentials.  When the local paper labeled me merely an ‘anti-drilling advocate’ the other day, I almost forgot my manners and forgot that they call themselves a newspaper.  Yet, I relented and sent the press release and the case filing to them (Redemption and all that. More on that later in this article–you won’t have to wait through Lent).

Anyway.

I wish Fox had been louder, more combative, even more angry when he was arrested.  He was, after all, in the relatively more civilized, highly capitalized, lawyer-populated environs of Washington, D.C..  Still, I liked his statement about whom, ideally, should be considered a journalist:

“…Anyone can wake up in the morning, declare themselves a journalist and enjoy the protections of the First Amendment.  In the era of instant media, (Y)ou(T)ube and social networks, this becomes even more relevant and exciting; anyone with an i(P)hone can rock the world.  It was citizen journalists who first posted police pepper spraying peaceful protestors in New York and California and it was citizen distribution that virally spread those horrific videos of police brutality until the whole world was infected with the truth of what is happening in the USA today.  It was citizen journalists who first documented water catching on fire at the kitchen sink as a result of gas fracking.  It was citizen journalists who woke up one morning and decided to show the water contamination and air pollution due to gas drilling in Texas, Wyoming, Pennsylvania and in states across the nation….”

“…This year we have seen severe repression of journalism in America.  Hundreds of journalists have been arrested this year simply trying to do their jobs.  Whether they were covering oil and gas issues or issues of economic inequality during the OCCUPY demonstrations….”

“…”Recently, Reporters Without Borders released its 2011–2012 (G)lobal Press Freedom Index.  Due to journalist arrests and press suppression at Occupy Wall Street-inspired protests, the United States has dropped significantly in the rankings of press freedom, from 27 to 47.” Truthout reports….”

I like Fox’s ‘Be The Media’ ethos–it seems a response to Michael Moore’s call at the end of “Capitalism:A Love Story” for others to try filling his agit-prop documentarian shoes.   I also like that Josh speaks about OCCUPY as an ally of the anti-fracking movement–something not all of the ‘new-to-giving-a-shit-about-anything-but-my-property’ anti-frack movement needs to hear.

My experience covering opposition movements, and teaching journalism students to consider doing the same, or analyzing journalism the past 35 years means that I can still remember when a certain swagger was expected in the face of a bullying source:

* like Harris, who confronts our town supervisor by repeatedly interrupting our meetings as if he’s the local emperor, and then tells others to ‘be quiet’  even while accusing me of trying to ‘shut him up’ (as if I could?);

*like the Montrose Borough council majority;

*like EID Marcellus, who I called out

(as is my right as a citizen, my dear colleagues at The Daily Star– even if I am a journalist) at the Town of Oneonta public hearing February 13th, and

*like Kimberly More, the woman who tried denying me a peek at a public document, and then misrepresented those moments in order to file what I consider a false claim against me –as she and my assailant had promised to do;

*like the anti-moratorium/pro-fracking crowd Harris and More sat among that challenged my very right to videotape the meeting and then made menacing gestures to me after the gavel holder told them they were wrong to challenge my presence videotaping the meeting.

I had remembered Harris as the man from the prior meeting when he had shoved me back as both of us had raised our hands to get the attention of the town supervisor convening that meeting.  Since Harris has blabbed on line that I had asked “How’s your brother?”  I can explain that I was not referring to his brother Cal, but to a brother “Jeff”  I had heard he had beaten up at a Toyota dealership.  I later learned he has no brother named “Jeff” but that a cousin of his named Geoff had purchased that business.  But all three people told me the same story:  Steve Harris had charged across town, angered at losing a sale to his brother (Cal, apparently) and had beaten him up (2 people said with a desk) such that there was blood everywhere, and then stood back and let the punch drunk brother get in a few blows so that mutual charges were filed.   I later learned that Cal had received a restraining order against Steve Harris–and that Steve’s wife later provided testimony that sent Cal Harris to jail on murder charges.  (I mention this, because Harris went ballistic after I posted the first produced video of that meeting on ShaleShock media pages.  His rabid ranting about me remains up on that site.)

You never know who you’ll bump into at the local town meeting on fracking.

Regardless–Steve Harris was blocking my path as I tried completing meeting coverage.  And grinning.  So,  I breezed by with a ‘you-don’t-bug-me-you’re-a-pimple-on-a-gnat’s-ass’ comment.

A few moments later he DID get an iPhone within inches of my face and ask me ‘How’s your SISTER?‘–and I momentarily wondered:  “How did this guy know I have a sister?”  Still,  NOTHING I said to him could be seen to have merited his attack.

What happened to the right to be about to write, or about to edit, something ‘disagreeable’ to the dirty carbon industry?   Harris called me that night, “one weird lady, you know that?”

I embrace that label.

As a television journalist, I used to travel in a pack.  A surly pack, if need be.  With a videographer who would have knocked my well-heeled assailant squarely on his ass.  Righteously.  With the support of newsroom management.

It’s the principle.

And it’s more dangerous now for independent ‘one-man-band journalists’ like myself.   I watched the increased danger as the attrition to newsroom staff levels began in the 1980s.  By the time I switched from the gutted radio journalism (5,000 local jobs lost nationwide thanks to Reagan’s deregulation of the FCC) of the 1980s to the still functioning (sort of) television journalism in 1982, the larger markets had already lost the three person crews (videocamera, sound/grip, and reporter).  We were, by the time I was hired in New Orleans in 1984, already down to two-person crews (reporter as sound/grip and videographer).  That meant one less person to watch the periphery or ‘blind side’ of the camera person.

AFTRA (representing journalists and producers and assignment desk and advertising production staff ) and IBEW (videographers and editors) at WVUE had suffered hard times.  That was largely due to the failure of all U.S. unions to go out on general strike in support of the recently routed PATCO union.  Remember the beleaguered Air Traffic Controllers Ronald Reagan fired?  Had the nation’s unions gone out in solidarity with PATCO, Reagan’s actions might have been reversed.  Our unions might have been emboldened.

Every savvy union person I’ve spoken to since then say the failure to stand up to Reagan’s threat was the beginning of the end for unions via ‘globalization’ and I think that’s correct.  In fact, the only reason great WVUE (New Orleans ABC affiliate) videographers like the late John “Fritz” Fritzinger, Buddy Risotto, and retired videographers Barry Miller and Lloyd Edwards had any sort of an agreement covering them the year before I joined the newsroom in 1984 is that they were affiliated with the Teamsters.  The year prior to the 1983 IBEW/WVUE union negotiations, someone had blown up “Channel 8’s”  transmitting equipment near its tower at the edge of New Orleans.  That was an expensive piece of equipment destroyed before I moved to New Orleans.

Blown to shitteree.

Now.

Let’s sit down and talk.

Journalism was never tiddly winks. If done properly.  But, the newsrooms of the late 1950s-to-present had become much less proletariat-leaning in nature–if it ever had been.  Fawning after celebrities of a business or show-business nature, unfortunately, became the name of the game–particularly after the (first of many?) Red Scare.   Even when the 99% should have known which side management was on, they often did not seem to make the right connections.  For instance, I remember vehement disagreements with WVUE’s Chief Videographer, the late Ronald Monetelepre.

But even hardliners like him would not have tolerated a wealthy car dealer yanking the latest technological morph of the videocamera out of my hand.   Ron would have given the guy a verbal blistering (perhaps with a shove or two) the next day at his dealership.   “You leave our guys/girls alone!” he would have bellowed–as only a Pacific-Island-invading-Marine could have.   And Monetelepre would have done it even though I’d gotten the best of him in various ideological discussions en route to news coverage.  “Ask him he how got on those islands,” my late father grinned through the phone line from New Orleans to Michigan.  I was telling my dad that Montelepre had doubted anyone in my gene pool was a VFW Post Commander, let alone a navy veteran of the Siragao Straits battle.  Dad said to ask Ron, “Were you wearing your Jesus shoes?”   I did.  Ron Montelepre bellowed.  I laughed.

He did not laugh.

Still, I am pretty certain Montelepre would have gone after Harris-the-car-dealer, because Montelepre went after former Mayor Earnest ‘Dutch’ Morial.   In 1985, a 60-something white guy chastising New Orleans’ ‘First Black Mayor’ on behalf of a black male videographer and a white female reporter should have given Ron pause.  Thankfully, it did not.

Ron went after Dutch.  He did so the same day that the mayor’s driver had seemed to intentionally veer (with Dutch encouraging him in the back seat) at Lloyd Edwards, who was videotaping Morial running away from my questions about a campaign fund kerfuffle.  Acting as Edwards’ grip, I threw down my notepad and bag, reached into his waistband by his spine (the videographers taught reporters to do this–I wasn’t being fresh), grabbed a hunk of his belt and jeans and sort of yanked him out of the car’s path.  “You won’t pull that bullshit again!”  Montelepre yelled at Dutch’s press aide.  Lloyd and I were satisfied.

I wonder how poor Joe Holden of WBRE-TV feels–nobody from WBRE-TV seems to be bellowing in Montrose on his behalf.

So, here’s your chance, WBRE.

Get your corporate counsel to join our lawsuit against the Montrose Borough’s stupid rules.   Josh Fox had foundation-funded indy media people on his side.  He had national journalism groups on his side.  We don’t have that kind of pull.  And we don’t have much time.  We have dirty houses that have suffered because we’re always skipping out to cover a meeting or a particularly heinous situation.

We rural citizen journalists are right smack in the middle of what seems to be a military style invasion sanctioned, apparently, by Republican and Democratic party governors and presidents.  Obama’s state of the union was such a disappointment.  But, not long after that, a call went out from Toxics Targeting and later was embraced by the fragmented ‘fractivist’ community which has been largely ignored, along with other really important news stories still waiting to be disseminated broadly:

*There seems to be a plan to turn the entire Northeastern portion of the U.S. into a sacrifice zone for the dying carbon-based energy companies;

*The plans put forth to create oases from the devastation really won’t protect anyone from radiation that tends to move north.

*The Southern Tier doesn’t need to be ‘test-fracked’ as per the plan being entertained by the Cuomo administration.  These wells seem designed to obtain financing in order to connect to a series of pipelines that are coming as per the ‘liquify it and send it elsewhere’ ‘finance’ scheme.

*There’s a rumored third pipeline coming to the area, the ‘El Paso’ line.

*The cost of declaring eminent domain and giving people a fair price to vacate and relocate if this plan is ‘so good’ for the U.S. has never been calculated–or has it?

*Patrick McElligott’s vow to fast regarding ‘bigger’ targets than Senator Libous include Governor Cuomo, and his former brother-in-law, Robert F. Kennedy, who sits on the Cuomo 2016 exploratory presidential committee.

These are all stories sort of being covered by smaller upstate New York newspapers and citizen journalists before the ‘bigger’ ones latch onto them.  Sometimes they get it, in their own timid way.  Michael Moore has wisely pointed out that advertising as a model for  Vera Scroggins, for instance, shoots a lot of meetings for Shale Shock Media collective.  And she’s usually polite.  That was her in the earlier video explaining, in polite, grandmotherly voice that she had a right to videotape in the front row in Montrose because she was polite and quiet. I would argue she had a right to the front row because she was breathing.  And I would argue she would have the right to be anywhere but blocking an exit even if she were NOT breathing.   Dead people continue to vote in Chicago, don’t they?  (Well, probably, but the Chicago Tribune newsroom looks like this for the past 2 years now).

This is an important case.  Not just because it’s me and my sis.  It’s an important case because of what Chicago Mayor Rahm (Tiny Dancer) Emmanuel has declared the right to decide which pieces of recording equipment can be on the streets of the Windy City during the G-20 protests in May.

But we are under no obligation to be polite about this.

Our politicians need to understand this–even those who were elected in rural New York to stop fracking.  One such politician told me that he sees no conflict of interest in a fellow politician’s presence on our local town board.  Even the local newspaper, heavily dependent as it is on this man’s advertising sees the conflict of interest.  I don’t think this politician is ‘dirty’ as some anti-frackers have suggested.  I think it’s just really hard to stand up for principles without a vigorous media–and we’ve lacked the moral compass a properly staffed news media provides for about three decades now.

There is plenty of blame to go around.  I wish the unions had gone on general strike despite Ronald Reagan’s belicose threats after the throttling of the PATCO union trying to protect the beleaguered Air Traffic Controllers.  And right now, I wish what passes for an anti-fracking movement would give a whole-hearted, full throated support of the OCCUPY movement and start planning to go to D.C. and demand a sane energy and transportation policy.

And it’s not going to happen the way things are going.  We’ve got a President who says this formerly illegal procedure is not only legal, but capable of being done ‘safely‘–said it in his big showbiz night:  The State of The Union no less.  We’ve got citizen activists banning from list-serves those who try defending OCCUPY Well Street as legitimate members of the anti-fracking community.   The movement’s leaders are settling for small potato victories like our little win in Montrose.  No one seems to want to say that those in power are planning on destroying over half of the country with this madness.  All of our smart and ethical politicians seem to in a daze.

What we need is, frankly, a revolution.

Anyone who had been to Cuba would realize this.

Cindy Sheehan knows this.  She’s not only been to Cuba, she’s been to Venezuela.  And for her newly released “Revolution: A Love Story ,”  she translates President Hugo Chavez‘ response to this question:   “Why do you think the Empire makes such a concerted effort to demonize you?”:

“I think for different reasons. But I’ve gotten to the conclusion there is one particular strong reason, a big reason. They are afraid, the Empire is afraid.  The Empire is afraid that the people of the United States might find out about the truth, they are afraid that something like that could erupt in their own territory — a Bolivarian movement; or a Lincoln movement — a movement of citizens, conscious citizens to transform the system. . . . So, why do they demonize us? They know — those who direct the Empire — they know the truth. But they fear the truth. They fear the contagious effect. They fear a revolution in the United States. They fear an awakening of the people in the United States. And so that’s why they do everything they can. And they achieve it, relatively, that a lot of sectors in the United States see us as devils. No one wants to copy the devil.”

I wish I could visit Venezuela.  But I’m bound for Montrose on Monday with my iPhone to stream all the stupid comments from the Borough meeting starting at 6:45 p.m. or so on Monday.  I’d like to meet with Hugo Chavez, or Fidel Castro for that matter.  But, first, I need to see Vera Scroggins sitting with dignity behind her little camera on its tripod in the front row.

That may be all the revolution I see in this lifetime.

Lisa Barr can be reached through her blog Hegemonic Seam.