After Colleen Waibel was killed and two other officers were shot in the botched knock and talk at Steven Dons' residence, police officials were angry. But they were not angry about possible misconduct by the officers, and they didn't even seem angry about the violence that had occurred. Instead they turned their anger on the media.

Four Portland TV stations use helicopters for their news shows. All four carried live coverage as the Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) surrounded Dons on the afternoon of January 27. Though the cops felt that live coverage could endanger the SERT team by revealing their positions to the gunman, all the stations continued live coverage anyway. However, when the police asked the stations to back off to a certain distance, they complied, according to FAA reports cited in the February 4 Willamette Week.

Out of concern for public information, we would prefer that the news media remain as close to the activity as possible, and then show the footage later. The SERT team eventually entered the house, shot Dons with non-lethal rounds, and then stripped him naked­­all outside the media's view. It would seem, then, that the public's right to know was compromised by the media's capitulation to police.

Who knows‹if the media hadn't shown up, would Dons have survived as long as he did?

The Oregonian's January 28th story quotes city officials demanding responsibility from the media‹whereas the media should be demanding responsibility from elected officials. You would think from the harsh words that the reporters were responsible for Waibel's death, which is completely impossible since her death was the news that brought the helicopters to the site.

The city and the media reached an agreement, reported in the March 13 Oregonian. The agreement includes restrictions on media coverage of specific kinds of incidents‹hostage situations, barricaded armed assailants, and explosive devices‹and refers to a "Bat Phone" which will give the police contact to all four stations at one time. [Perhaps they can send up a Bat Signal, too, when they want the media to show up!] The police will also set up a location for a "TV pool camera," one camera which all the stations have to use. Hey, folks, why not just let the police video tape the whole thing and give you what they want?

Fortunately, this is a voluntary, good-faith agreement and none of the stations were dumb enough to sign such a waiver to their first amendment rights.

It's interesting that the police view the media as a threat, or see stories as "anti-police." It's clear watching local news that several stations bend over backwards to help the police, compliment them, and in the case of KATU Channel 2, be even more obsequious. In the March Rap Sheet, a letter from KATU Senior Vice President and General Manager James L. Boyer extends an invitation to help raise funds for the police who were shot, recounts how KATU followed every police order to move further away, cites a commendation for their activities from the president of the Northwest Rotorcraft Association, and states that it is station policy not to "visually or verbally broadcast the movements of police officers attempting to apprehend a suspect." That being the case, we wonder if KATU even carried the Rodney King tape.

People's Police Report #14 Table of Contents
People's Police Report Index Page
Return to Copwatch home page