Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Secret Service and the Media

Yesterday, at a Trump campaign rally, a US Secret Service agent was involved in an altercation with a Time photographer. A number of videos of the incident have been posted, but this is the key one. It shows the Agent being pushed backwards at the one second mark (which constitutes assault on a Federal Officer - see here). The Agent then slams the photographer to the ground. When the photographer gets up, he grabs the Agent's neck. But if, as appears, the push of the Agent is the first unlawful physical contact, that is the key to the incident. That's because the push would constitute assault on a Federal agent. 

Case closed. 

Yet judging the media reaction to these circumstances, you would surmise that the Secret Service agent is the guilty party. For a few examples, consider Mashable's tweet, or that of Huff Post's Michael Calderone, or that of Politico's Marc Caputo. Indeed, Daily Beast reporter, Olivia Nuzzi tweeted that an objective assessment of the Agent's actions was a mortal sin. These tweets from supposedly objective journalists really pissed me off. And be under no illusions, there were many more tweets than those linked above. In part, my anger is personal - I've worked in close protection (at a lower level - see video below!), but it's also professional - Journalism deserves better. Thus, I went on Twitter rant...

1) I explained why the Secret Service is rightly concerned about maintaining the integrity of media pens. This is a fact that many in the media - one example - inexplicably do not understand. Their ignorance is both intellectually pathetic and inexcusable.

2) Most in the media have no clue about US Secret Service role/challenges. In terms of both protection and personal sacrifice, Officers and Agents of the Secret Service give a great deal. The lacking regard for the Agent's perspective was outrageous. The Secret Service as a protective agency, is worthy of trust and confidence.

Regardless, my main gripe here is that the collective media scrum to blame the Agent was immoral. Had there been clear, immediate evidence that the Agent had committed misconduct/assault, the media reaction would have been justified. But there was no evidence of those presumed circumstances. And it was rapidly obvious because of the variable camera angles that no evidence existed. By rushing judgement here, many in the media have betrayed journalistic best practices by allowing bias to define their reaction. They saw a law enforcement officer an altercation with a journalist, and they chose to side with the journalist. They decided that the assessment of facts didn't matter. That reaction shows that far too many in the media today are unable to grasp that journalists are not the sole guardians of democracy. While the media rightly must draw scrutiny to power - think Watergate - the Secret Service play a critical role in facilitating American elections. I personally think Trump is a sociopath and an ignoramus, but democracy demands our acquiescence to the lawful will of the people. The Secret Service defend that principle: whether its Obama, Sanders, Trump or someone else. 

Fortunately, not all journalists are inane when it comes to assessing law enforcement. Enter the Washington Post's Petula Dvorak. Yesterday, Dvorak wrote an opinion piece on the challenges Police Officers face every day. She singled out Ashley Guindon, a 28-year-old Prince William County Officer who, on Saturday, lost her life on her first patrol. I disagree with much of Dvorak's piece in terms of gun control. But her nuance in assessing law enforcement strikes a very different tenor to what many other journalists wrote yesterday.

Beware journalists bearing claims of unimpeachable objectivity. That true virtue is rare.


  1. I agree with everything you wrote in this piece.
    For those doubting the veracity of any of Tom's arguments, I recommend Ronald Kessler's "The First Family Detail" book on the Secret Service.
    A few eye-opening tidbits about a current presidential candidate in the book as well...

  2. Not really a fan of the S.S. But I do see two things. Journos are freaking about about Trump actually winning and it scares them. The other is that they've been spending too much time around the BLM crowd and think they can touch/do whatever (especially to LE)and it's not wrong.