There are too many horrifying things about last week’s violent insurrection in our nation’s capital that writing about any specific terrible part of it naturally feels like one is ignoring all the other terrible parts. Plenty of media members have commented on the specific targeting of journalists during the pro-Trump attack on the Capitol, the mob’s gleeful destruction of video equipment, the etching of “murder the media” on the building’s door.
I am reluctant to be open with my feelings on these events because I feel the need to attach so many qualifiers. I am a freelance journalist, yes, but not by education and it is not my primary career or livelihood. And I am a white male. I have never covered an event where I’ve felt unsafe, never written anything that has resulted in obnoxious communications or death threats that a female journalist or a Black journalist might receive.
My full-time work is as an assistant producer for the Ohio Channel. I am a member of the media in the broadest sense. We are not journalists; we broadcast government proceedings, press conferences, we film educational videos and occasionally documentaries.
Having said all that, I never feel more vulnerable than when I am behind a camera in public. There are people out there who hate members of the media, and if I’m operating a camera, I am one. The details hardly matter. When I have my camera out, trying to get the right shots, I’ll often receive stares with a wide range of negative emotions—fear, suspicion, anger, sneering. Sometimes people want to talk to me. Sometimes it starts with mild curiosity, but I always wonder where that curiosity will lead. I’ve been shouted at from vehicles, been asked to show multiple forms of ID, had security officers ask if I really work for the Ohio Channel or if I’m just wearing the t-shirt (as a disguise, I gather?).
On one assignment I had my face buried in my camera’s eyepiece, getting b-roll of a statue at the Union County Courthouse. It was a sunny day, so I had to close one eye and put the other to the eyepiece viewfinder. This is when I feel most vulnerable—a videographer often works with a total absence of peripheral vision. These days, it’s impossible for me to do this sort of work without thinking of the two Virginia journalists killed on live television in 2015. The camera operator would have never seen the gunman approaching until it was too late. And as it happened, while I was filming this statue at the courthouse, I heard a stranger behind me shout, “Hey, get a shot of this!”
I turned around and saw a young white man with a black backpack walk by me with both fists up, both fists giving me the middle finger. I stared at him for a second before he followed up by shouting, “Fuck you, it’s legal!” Then he walked on.
Who could know that individual’s politics or philosophy or mental state? All I know is I was so paralyzed by the bizarreness of his behavior that I just watched him walk away. I was so confused I didn’t even think about how to protect myself, or even if I needed to. And I’m sure that if he had a weapon, and if he wanted to murder a member of the media, he probably could have done it right then and there.