Tag Archives: Accountability

Power of one pen

Adam Nagourney of The New York Times demonstrated the power of one reporter and one video this week with his story about defiant rancher Cliven Bundy’s racist remarks suggesting blacks were better off as slaves picking cotton.

The New York Times was late to the story of Bundy’s refusal to follow federal grazing laws and the armed support he got from people calling themselves “patriots.”

By last Saturday when Nagourney made it to Nevada, he was apparently the only reporter present to hear Bundy’s hateful speech.  As soon as the story and the video got out, the conservative politicians who had supported Bundy began running for the hills, as did conservative radio hosts.

The factoring of race into Stand Your Ground legislation

Editor’s note: This is an analysis by Evette Dionne.

Several prominent Stand Your Ground cases in Florida are raising questions about how the American media are covering race and intimate-partner violence.

Michael Giles, a former Air Force member, who is black, shot and wounded three patrons outside a nightclub on Feb 6, 2010. Marissa Alexander, 34, a black mother of three, fired a warning shot at her husband on Aug. 3, 2010. George Zimmerman, a white Hispanic volunteer neighborhood watchman, shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on Feb. 21, 2012. Michael Dunn, a white male, shot and killed 17-year-old Jordan Davis on Nov. 23, 2012.

These four cases serve as flashpoints for examining Stand Your Ground legislation, and, more specifically, how media are covering these cases.

In 2005, Florida became the first of 22 states to enact a Stand Your Ground law, an extension of the “castle doctrine.” The law states that deadly force is justifiable when an individual believes he or she’s in danger. Initially, this justifiable force was reserved for private property, but the law extended the “castle” to include public spaces, like sidewalks.

Mother Jones, a liberal magazine, published a study that finds most Stand Your Ground laws have been adopted in the Southern and Midwestern States. Mother Jones attributes the rise of Stand Your Ground laws to the first election of President Barack Obama.

Dr. Sabrina Strings, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California-Berkeley, agrees. In an article for Truthout, Strings writes that “the discourse among politicians in many of these states, like Florida and Texas, was that Obama’s election would lead to explosive growth of “entitlements” (a curious linguistic inversion) for the poor and elderly. Ultimately, the fear that the various institutions of the government simply could not or would not effectively protect the (imagined potential) white victims and their property was an impetus behind the adoption of these new laws.”

Liberal publications and writers contextualized Stand Your Ground legislation as a political and a racial issue, making the media coverage of the Giles, Alexander, Zimmerman and Dunn cases particularly worthy of mining.

George Zimmerman and Michael Dunn

Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis shared much in common. Both were 17-year-old Floridians who were unarmed when they were killed. Both of their shooters were indicted and tried for killing them. Both of their killers were acquitted on their actual murders. Lastly, both of their deaths received massive media coverage.

When Zimmerman shot and killed Martin on Feb. 21, 2012, he invoked Florida’s Stand Your Ground law in his defense. The Sanford, Fla. police did not detain or charge Zimmerman with Martin’s death until swarming media pressure forced action, according to three researchers at the MIT Center for Civic Media.

Multiple media outlets devoted entire sections of newspapers and websites to Martin’s shooting and Zimmerman’s case. ABC’s central Florida affiliate, WFTV 9, Fox’s Orlando affiliate Fox 35, CBS News, the Huffington Post, the Los Angeles Times and others began covering the incident since it happened more than two years ago.

In their study titled “The Battle for ‘Trayvon Martin’: Mapping a Media Controversy Online and Offline,” researchers Erhardt Graeff, Matt Stempeck and Ethan Zuckerman trace the Martin case through five specific phases. The second phase of media coverage in the Zimmerman case was sponsored by “race-based media” and activist outlets, including Global Grind, Color of Change and the Black Youth Project.

The third phase was a reaction from the political left. The researchers note that conservative news outlets suddenly were “putting Martin on trial.” On March 25, 2012, Dan Linehan, lead blogger at conservative site Wagist, referred to Martin as a drug dealer. According to Graeff, Stempeck and Zuckerman, “this reframing of Trayvon as dangerous, not innocent, was then amplified by a number of right wing blogs.”

Mainstream news outlets followed Wagist, leading to the Miami Herald publishing a story on Martin’s school records, which included a suspension for carrying a bag of marijuana.

In shifting the focus from Zimmerman to Martin, media reframed the narrative. The same trend is seen in coverage of Dunn’s case. Media’s coverage of Davis’ shooting and Dunn’s trial echoes that of Martin’s killing as Davis also was subjected to being examined as the catalyst for his own death.

According to court records, when Dunn approached Davis and three of his friends, they were listening to rap music in a car. In his testimony at his trial, Dunn claimed that he asked Davis to turn down the music, and felt threatened when Davis refused.

“My eardrums were vibrating,” Dunn said when asked about the music during trial. “I mean, this was ridiculously loud music.”

News outlets such ABC’s Good Morning America, the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, Fox News, CNN and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution referred to the Dunn trial as the “loud music trial.”

The editorial decision to focus on the music Davis and his friends were listening to instead of Dunn’s decision to shoot him “trivialized the case,” according to Jedd Legum, the editor-in-chief of the Center for American Progress’ ThinkProgress blog. Cultural critic Alyssa Rosenberg, previously of ThinkProgress, agreed.

In a blog post dated Feb. 19, Rosenberg wrote, “The fact that Jordan Davis and his friends were listening to hip-hop, specifically to Lil Reese’s ‘Beef,’ seems to have predisposed Dunn to look at the boys in the car as dangerous in a way he might not have had they happened to be bumping country, or dance music, or the Rolling Stones.”

Jurors in the Dunn trial affirmed Legum’s claim. In an interview with ABC News, a juror, identified only as Valerie, said she believed Dunn was guilty of murder because he conflated musical preference with violent tendencies.

When asked about Dunn’s characterization of hip-hop music as “thug” music, Valerie replied, “That was a big deal for me, because he testified he wouldn’t say or use the words ‘thug,’ but he said he would use the words ‘rap crap.’ However, in his interview, he did say ‘thug’ a few times.”

White victimhood is a common thread between the Dunn and Zimmerman trials as well, according to NBC’s theGrio. Writer John Nolte amplified theGrio’s claim in a blog post for Breitbart.com, a conservative web site.

“As you will see below, by hook and crook, the mainstream media did everything in its still-potent power to not only push for the prosecution of Mr. Zimmerman (the police originally chose not to charge him) but also to gin up racial tensions where none needed to exist,” Nolte wrote.

Other ideological outlets were extreme in their coverage as well. Doug Spero, an op-ed columnist for the Christian Science Monitor, reported that Fox News aired Zimmerman interviews while MSNBC averaged six hours of coverage of the case per night, even after Zimmerman was acquitted.

Using the deaths of Martin and Davis as ideological rallying cries can lead to a failure to highlight important issues, such as  the role of intimate-partner violence in the Marissa Alexander case.

Marissa Alexander

Court documents state that on Aug. 3, 2010, Marissa Alexander fired a warning shot into the ceiling of her Jacksonville, Fla., home during an argument with her husband, Rico Gray.

Gray, who was 36 at the time of the incident, told digital news site Politic365 that “Marissa is not portraying herself as she is.”

He added, “I was begging for my life while my kids were holding on to my side, the gun was pointed at me.”

Alexander, then 31, was arrested and charged with three counts of aggravated assault. Alexander attempted to enact Stand Your Ground as a defense, but the judge dismissed it, citing that her decision to leave the home and then return with a weapon didn’t show justifiable fear for her life.

Additionally, both Gray and Alexander had been arrested for domestic battery against each other before this incident, according to Jacksonville.com.

In an unrelated 2010 hearing, Gray said, “I got five baby mamas and I put my hand on every last one of them except one. The way I was with women, they was like they had to walk on eggshells around me. You know, they never knew what I was thinking … or what I might do … hit them, push them.”

As with the Davis and the Martin killings, there was a clear split in the national news media’s coverage of Alexander’s case.

Traditional outlets such as the Associated Press, CBS News and ABC News reported the case without departing from the facts.

In juxtaposition, digital-first outlets with progressive leanings, such as Gawker, Slate and BuzzFeed, questioned whether the justice system served or harmed Alexander – and if her case was a complete reversal of what happened in the Zimmerman trial.

In an article dated April 23, 2012, Connor Adams Sheets, a reporter at the International Business Times, compared the Zimmerman and Alexander cases. In the concluding paragraph, Sheets wrote that the Florida justice system’s treatment of the Alexander and Zimmerman cases proved that Stand Your Ground statutes are “unevenly-applied.”

Sheets’ statement was echoed in other articles at the Center for American Progress’ blog ThinkProgress and MSNBC.com among others.

However, most mainstream and digital publications overlooked the impact of intimate-partner violence on women of color, particularly black women, and how this factors into the Alexander case.

The Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit organization that researches gun violence, found black women are disproportionately slain by their male partners. The Violence Policy Center concluded that 2.61 per 100,000 black female victims are killed in single-offender incidents, and that 94 percent of black women are killed by someone they’re familiar with.

Few news outlets examined intimate partner violence. MSNBC’s “Melissa Harris Perry” show devoted two segments to the role of intimate-partner violence in Alexander’s case. Irin Carmon, a reporter at MSNBC.com, detailed how Stand Your Ground, politics and intimate-partner violence are related.

In an article published March 20 of this year, Carmon used data from the Urban Institute, a nonprofit organization that collects data on America’s social issues, to prove that women can’t stand their ground if their target is male.

The Urban Institute found that just 5.7 percent of black women who kill black men are found to be justified, while 13.5 percent of white women who killed black men are found to be justified.

The Tampa Bay Times conducted similar research and found that Stand Your Ground was enacted in 14 Florida cases involving a female killer. Of those 14 cases, eight were found to be justified. Carmon noted that of those six cases that were tried, several of the women were victims of rape or physical abuse – and in most of the cases, the victim was a white male.

The lack of national reporting on intimate-partner violence as it relates to Alexander and Stand Your Ground is a critical oversight that is only reinforced when both the victim and the shooter are black males, as in the case of Michael Giles.

Michael Giles

Giles was stationed in Tampa, Fla., as an active-duty member of the Air Force. He was at a Tallahassee nightclub with friends when an argument escalated into a fight between 30 to 40 men, according to theGrio. Giles was not involved in the fight, but went to his vehicle to retrieve his gun.

He alleged that he was attacked, punched and knocked to the ground. Giles pulled his weapon out of his pants and fired at his attacker. In total, three men were wounded. Giles was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.

Like Alexander, Giles attempted to evoke Stand Your Ground, but also was denied. In August 2011, Giles was charged with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

No mainstream news outlet covered Giles’ case, and overall print and broadcast coverage is scarce. Niche publications and civil rights organizations have rallied for Giles. NBC’s theGrio, UPTOWN Magazine, PolicyMic, News One, VICE and the New York Amsterdam News have all published articles about the Giles case.

Most publications mirrored PolicyMic’s coverage. In an article dated Dec. 27 of last year, PolicyMic writer Rachel Kleinman asked, “Why did Giles lose his case?”

The other news outlets that covered Giles’ case asked similar questions. NBC’s theGrio interviewed Sen. Dwight Bullard, a Florida democrat, about the Giles’ case.

Bullard pointed to Florida Gov. Rick Scott as an impedance to justice, as it relates to Stand Your Ground cases that involve black shooters.

“His lack of intervention on behalf of Marissa Alexander and lack of compassion for the killings of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis have not gone unnoticed by Black Floridians – and all Floridians,” Bullard said.

“So it comes as no surprise that he has been noticeably absent in the case of Michael Giles. Nonetheless I will continue pressing his office and others to take notice of cases like Mr. Giles, Ms. Alexander and others.”

The same statement can be extended to the overall media, which has failed to cover Giles case as heavily as the deaths of Zimmerman and Dunn.

In his closing arguments, Giles’ defense attorney, Don Pumphrey, again used the terminology of Stand Your Ground.

“He doesn’t have to think he’s going to get killed, even though people looking in from the outside thought someone could get killed,” Pumphrey said. “If the defendant was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, where he had a right to stand, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.”

So what went wrong?

Some media outlets have attributed the disproportionate (and sometimes unfair) coverage of the Zimmerman and Dunn trials to a need to protect white-identified males.

In her research, Dr. Strings, connects Stand Your Ground to law professor Cheryl Harris’ article, “Whiteness as Property.”

As Strings explained, “Through an historical analysis of legislation that has been enacted over the past 200 years, Professor Harris demonstrated how the law has protected the rights of white citizens. This effectively made whiteness itself a right to be defended. The law has, moreover, ‘legitimized benefits that accrued to citizens just because they’re white.”

Given this analysis, String concluded that Stand Your Ground is similar to lynching, as it serves as a way to “safeguard whiteness against all presumed threats.”

Critical analyses of race as it relates to Stand Your Ground haven’t been prevalent in national news outlets, but smaller Florida papers have tackled the issue.

The Panama City News Herald commissioned research on Stand Your Ground statistics based on the race of the shooter and the victim. Researchers found that 44 African-Americans have used the Stand Your Ground defense in Florida. Twenty-four of those defendants have been successful, while 11 of the 44 were found guilty.

John Roman, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, connects these statistics to the perceived lack of victimhood available to black men.

“In any situation where a black male is perceived as being the aggressor, you are much more likely to have the homicide considered justifiable,” Roman said to MSNBC.com. “If they’re involved in a homicide, the finding is likely going to go against them.”

These Stand Your Ground cases in Florida are helping reinforce the idea that American post-racialism is a fallacy. These four separate Stand Your Ground cases reveal that news coverage shifts when the shooter is a person of color, or a woman. Though this feeds partisan posturing, it also leads to the under-reporting or exclusion of systemic social issues, such as intimate-partner violence. It also leaves Alexander, Davis, Giles, and Martin without justice.


St. Louis acts to address wrongful arrests

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated.

The St. Louis Police Department has instituted a new mobile fingerprint identification system in its North, South and Central Area Stations, as well as at the St. Louis City Justice Center, to help avoid wrongful arrests, according to Chief Sam Dotson.

The new fingerprint technology was put into the stations after a series in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last year maintaining that about 100 people had been arrested mistakenly over a seven-year period, serving a total of 2,000 days in jail.

Robert Patrick and Jennifer Mann, the Post-Dispatch reporters on the series, wrote that modern fingerprint identification could have prevented some wrongful arrests.

Among the cases cited in the series was one involving a city bus driver who was arrested in front of her crying children and jailed because her name was similar to another woman who had died months before. This was the result of a clerical error, but she lost her home, savings and her job, temporarily.

On March 4, without fanfare, the department launched its new Mobile Automated Fingerprint Identification System at its three area patrol stations and prisoner processing at the city’s downtown jail.  The mobile units allow police to take fingerprints on a small wireless scanning device that returns prompt results from the Missouri Highway Patrol and FBI fingerprint records. Dotson said a few mobile devices are being used by officers on patrol and more will be added so prints could be taken, on a voluntary basis, from persons at crime scenes, disasters and on the street.

Chief Dotson said he had been working on a new electronic fingerprint I.D. system even before the Post articles came out. Planning and pilot stages occurred prior to the stories and the system was fully implemented after publication, he said.

“People lie to us on occasion,” and use aliases,  he said. “We always want to make sure we know who we have,” and that means to check fingerprints “at the very front end of the incarceration process.”

While the Post and city disagree about the accuracy of some of the cases cited by the Post-Dispatch, mayoral aide Eddie Roth says improvements have been made and will continue to be made to reduce risks of error. Roth, a former police board president and Post editorial writer, has criticized the Post stories on Facebook, Twitter and in stories in GJR.

“The mis-identifications are rare. Our goal is to get to zero,” Roth said. “Our system is not perfect, but it is strong.” He said the reporters rightfully pursued an important cultural issue (wrongful arrests) but he didn’t think the stories were fair.  Roth thought the numbers of misidentifications were exaggerated, most of the cases were old and that reporters did not heed warnings that their research methods were flawed because they did not have access to all relevant records.

Patrick said the mayor’s office and circuit attorney mounted “a successful PR campaign” to downplay any harm done and “it changed the discussion to – is the story right?’

In one case the Post said a man was jailed when he had not been. A brother used the man’s name and it was the brother who was jailed. The Post corrected the mistake that had been based on city records that were incorrect. Patrick accepted the blame for not having interviewed the man.

The Board of Aldermen, state legislature, civil rights groups and many judges didn’t urge new rules to curb the wrongful arrest problem. The Post editorial page has been silent on it, though the paper’s editor Gilbert Bailon has strongly defended the stories. Lawyers are working on a federal class-action suit, but class certification initially was denied.

BuzzFeed controversy reveals split in ethics of embedding tweets

After reading a news report about a 60-year-old rape victim, Twitter user, Christine Fox (@steenfox), posed a simple question to her 17,000 followers: “What were you wearing when you were assaulted?” Hundreds of Twitter users shared their stories with Fox, and exposed a split in how journalists interpret the ethics of using tweets.

Jessica Testa, a reporter at BuzzFeed, sought permission from several tweeters before using their tweets in a listicle (an article that includes a mixture of commentary and embedded tweets, infographics and other images).

According to Fox, Testa requested permission from tweeters, but didn’t ask her. Christine Fox argued that it’s a violation of journalism ethics to use her image and the conversation she initiated without asking for her permission.

This led to a firestorm of responses from reporters at Poynter, Slate, Gawker and several other media outlets.

Hamilton Nolan, a reporter at Gawker, reminded Twitter users that unlocked accounts are considered fair use. He wrote, “Just because you wish that someone would not quote something that you said in public does not mean that that person does not have the right to quote something that you said in public. When we choose to say something in public, we choose to broadcast it to the world.”

Other journalists agreed with Nolan. Kelly McBride, a media ethicist and senior lecturer at Poynter, wrote an opinion article that echoed Nolan’s argument. She used a question to counter Fox’s claim that using tweets without permission is unethical:  “Permission for what?”

In her response, McBride wrote: “Many on Twitter rose up and pointed out that Twitter is public, which is true. And while there is a widely accepted guideline in journalism that you don’t identify rape victims without their permission, @steenfox didn’t identify herself as a survivor in two tweets that asked others to share their stories. Neither did Testa. She is only identified as the one who posed the question. Because you pose a question that provokes an interesting answer, does that give an ethical claim to control the story that emerges?”

Poynter later issued a correction when they discovered Christine Fox revealed her sexual assault in her Twitter, but did not retract McBride’s story.

Reporters Kate Knibbs of the Daily Dot and Mark Colvin of ABC Radio also argued that tweets should be considered fair use.

Kate Knibbs embedded Fox’s tweets without consulting her. She explained her reasoning as, “She is writing on a public platform that’s deliberately set up to facilitate easy resharing. She could have locked her Twitter account and denied my attempt to follow her so I couldn’t access her tweet. But Twitter is explicit in the way it gives users permission to share other people’s content; this includes users (like me) who choose to share content to their digital publication.”

However, Knibbs also wrote that just because journalists can do something doesn’t mean that they should. She is highlighting the difference between the legal rights journalists have under the First Amendment and their moral commitments.

Journalists follow a strict code of ethics, but the rise of social media will challenge the effectiveness of these ethical guidelines.

More than 1,000 people have signed a Change petition that demands apologies and retractions from Poynter and Gawker. It states in part:

“Due to the increased level of visibility we are demanding that journalists, media companies and social media platforms like Twitter take the steps below to not only protect users but to outline the ethical and moral obligations journalists have to not engage in violence toward marginalized people, survivors of sexual violence and others when engaging in online discussions.”

Kelly McBride is learning from this experience. In a follow-up article at Poynter, she highlights four specific lessons she’s learned during this process.

However, all journalists are on a learning curve. Journalists are navigating new terrain, and the BuzzFeed controversy is simply a growing pain when it comes to media ethics.

Roth’s letter to readers: Decide for yourselves

To the editor:

Joseph Pulitzer uttered three words that occupy an even more exalted place in the ideals of the working journalist than the poetry of his Platform:

“Accuracy, accuracy, accuracy,” he said.

The prize that bears Mr. Pulitzer’s name embeds in its rules another pre-eminent value of professional journalism: fairness.

The Post-Dispatch has fallen woefully short of these standards. Its editors approved publication of reports that are grossly unfair, that are full of errors and that fundamentally misrepresent the system of criminal suspect identification in St. Louis.

They mishandled a story that, when responsibly told, is serious and important. They perpetuate their mistakes in their letter of complaint to the Gateway Journalism Review.

No amount of senior editor indignation or grave intonation alters this reality.

But don’t take my word for it – or theirs.

Reread the Post-Dispatch stories. Read the factual record I assembled and the critiques I prepared. Then reread the GJR stories and Messrs. Bailon’s and Goodman’s letter.

Decide for yourself.

Messrs. Bailon and Goodman are correct about one thing: My Facebook postings are not available to everyone. To gain access and post comments, you must be one of Facebook’s more than 1 billion users.

Read the postings here:


Eddie Roth

St. Louis, Missouri

Reporters get ethics, law wrong in vacated murder sentence

Editor’s note: This is a preview of a story that appears in the winter 2014 print edition of Gateway Journalism Review.

When Ryan Ferguson was released from prison Nov. 12 where he had been serving time for the murder of a newspaper sports editor, television journalists from across the country swooped down on Columbia, Mo., home of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism.

The big story provided a teaching moment for one professor, concerned about accuracy, media ethics and the appearance of objectivity. A lesson was to be learned, too, about convergence, and how an event can be transformed or amplified by the various forms of media buzzing around it.

Ferguson’s release prompted live television coverage that showed reporters hugging members of his family, Internet postings and blog entries containing inaccuracies, and Twitter-fed debates over whether journalists should be cheerleaders. On national television, a network legal affairs correspondent misinterpreted a Missouri court opinion.

“I was appalled really at the media circus that went on after Ryan was released,” said Jim Robertson, managing editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune. “It just made me feel cynical about our profession.”

Ferguson spent nearly 10 years behind bars for the murder of Kent Heitholt, a Tribune sports editor who was found strangled and beaten in the newspaper’s parking lot on Nov. 1, 2001.

Hoping a new media sensitivity might emerge from the Newtown tragedy

Editor’s note: This is a preview of a story that appears in the winter 2014 print edition of Gateway Journalism Review.

Soon after tragedy struck a sleepy New England town more than one year ago, residents of Newtown, Ct., vowed the place they called home would be an epicenter for change. There needed to be changes in gun laws, some cried out. Others advocated for a national movement to increase school security. A need for better mental health counseling became a topic of conversation in homes and coffee shops among the town’s 26,000 residents.

More subtle and in the undertones, there also were pleas for Newtown to be the epicenter of change in how stories of mass shootings and grief are covered.

Just as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting has generated discussion about gun laws and school safety, how the tragedy was covered should also be a topic of discussion and review among media outlets, journalism organizations and in academia. There are so many lessons to learn in how journalists can still do their job while maintaining decency, credibility and sensitivity, but the year following the tragedy has shown there is little interest in the topic. So while there should be a Newtown effect in journalism, that sadly has not been the case.

There were no mea culpas about the inaccurate reporting that occurred as the Sandy Hook story was unfolding. It was reported the shooter was a parent of a kindergarten student. He was not. It was reported the killer’s mother was a teacher at the school. She was not. The killer was misidentified. It was reported the killer once attended the school, but lived in New Jersey with his father. Only one part of that report was correct. Those are just a few of the inaccuracies reported as fact. Connecticut State Police did not have an official press conference for nearly six hours after the shooting, so reporters on the scene were fed information from their collective newsrooms and social media. Without confirmation, those tidbits were presented as gospel until the newest tidbit of information was presented. No one apologized for the misinformation.

A similar scenario was repeated five months later at the Boston Marathon bombing. The need for speed outweighed the importance of accuracy. Clearly, nothing was learned from Newtown.

Senator bars television coverage of committee session

A state senator has barred television coverage of his committee’s consideration of legislation criminalizing the enforcement of federal gun laws in Missouri.

As the senate’s General Laws Committee prepared Jan. 28 to consider the bill, chairman Brian Nieves announced: “Executive sessions are not videotaped, so videos will need to be turned off at this point.” Earlier, Nieves had ordered a reporter for a Columbia-based television station to remove his camera and tripod from the committee room.

“This is the first time I can ever remember that television coverage of a hearing was effectively prohibited since executive committee meetings were opened up in the early ’70s,” said Phill Brooks, the dean of the press corps and the director of the state government reporting program of the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

Nieves, a Republican from Washington, is the sponsor of the bill that would declare invalid federal gun laws and make it a crime for a federal employee to enforce them. The bill would also let school districts to designate trained teachers to carry concealed weapons.

The bill also would require a federal agent to notify the local sheriff before serving a warrant. A similar bill passed by the legislature last year failed to become law after Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed it.

According to Brooks, after the first hearing on the bill last week, Nieves announced that tripods would not be allowed in the committee room, and that a 24-hour notice would have to be given to his office for a camera to be brought in to videotape the meeting.

“Without a tripod, you’d get terrible shaky video,” Brooks said.

Television cameras mounted on tripods are used to cover all other legislative committee meetings.

On Monday, Nieves’ office was given notice by KOMU-TV, Channel 8 in Columbia, of a request to cover Tuesday’s hearing. Jessica Johnson, Nieves’ assistant, responded to the request with an email saying, “Yes, it is OK for them to video today. However, the senator is requesting that no tripods or machines that prevent the view of people be used.”

Brooks said that not only were tripods banned, but cameras were to be placed behind the seating for general public, meaning for video “all you will have is the back of the heads of the witnesses.”

“My reporter made the decision, and I agreed with it, that we would put up the tripod in the normal place where cameras have always been located to cover committee hearings,” Brooks said. “And if the senator objected, he could tell us.”

Nieves had one of his staff order the reporter, Michael Doudna, a journalism school student, to remove the camera and tripod.

There was no explanation for Nieves’ prohibition of videotaping of the committee’s executive session, in which senators discuss and vote on the bills before them. Doudna returned to the committee room without his camera to cover the meeting. The committee approved the bill.

Nieves did not respond to the GJR’s emailed and telephoned requests for an interview. But his assistant, Johnson, shared her email exchange regarding the television coverage request.

“Senator Nieves would prefer that you take up any further concerns you may have with that actual reporter,” Johnson said.