Now, we all know that in this political season that some reporters have been hamstrung by Republicans running from office who will only be interviewed on Fox News or by candidates who literally run away from them. But now the bar has been lowered/raised (put your political bias here) by the news that Alaska Tea Party favorite and GOP candidate Joe Miller didn’t like being interviewed so his security guards pushed a reporter away — and then actually handcuffed him.
From hamstrung to handcuffs in one political season:
Security guards for Alaska senate candidate Joe Miller handcuffed and detained the editor of the online magazine “Alaska Dispatch” on Sunday while he tried to interview the Republican nominee, according to multiple reports.
The Anchorage Daily News reports that Tony Hopfinger, who founded and edits “Alaska Dispatch,” was arrested by Miller’s private guards at an Anchorage school. The senate hopeful was on hand as part of a town hall event.
The firm that handles Miller’s security says that Hopfinger shoved a man, but Hopfinger claims that he only pushed back at a guard after the guard began pushing him.
According to an article at the website for “Alaska Dispatch,” Hopfinger was warned that he would be charged with trespassing if he did not cease asking questions and leave the premises.
So reporters now can be charged with trespassing if they ask candidates questions they don’t want to hear..
And the context of it? Some ethics questions have arisen against Miller and he had recently served notice he wasn’t going to answer any more:
The incident occurs one week after Miller, a Tea Party favorite who stunned incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the state’s Republican Primary in August, abruptly announced that he would no longer answer questions from the press. “We’ve drawn a line in the sand. You can ask me about background, you can ask me about personal issues, I’m not going to answer them. I’m not,” he said at the time.”
So a reporter took him up on his invitation (akin to Gary Hart destroying his Presidential possibilities by telling reporters to follow him around and they would not see him womanizing) and he was handcuffed by guards working for Miller.
The shoving is almost a side issue; handcuffing reporters has been one line that was never crossed by candidates.
UPDATE: Other reporters were threatened with trespassing when they tried to find out what happened. And — oh yes — some video was seized and footage of the arrest was somehow mysteriously missing when the reporter got it back. The Anchorage Daily News.
One of the guards grabbed Hopfinger’s video camera. Later, Hopfinger said that when he got the camera back, the segment covering the span of the arrest was missing. An Anchorage police officer offered to take the camera into custody and have it examined in the crime lab to investigate whether evidence had been destroyed, but Hopfinger declined. He said he needed the camera and the remaining video for his work.
The guard who grabbed the camera said Hopfinger had dropped it in the scuffle and denied erasing anything. The guard wouldn’t give his name.
While Hopfinger was still in handcuffs, the guards attempted to prevent other reporters from talking to him and threatened them too with arrest for trespass. A Daily News reporter interviewed Hopfinger anyway. No other reporters were arrested, though a few shoving matches and chest bumps ensued as the guards attempted to cordon off Hopfinger and block photographs and videos from being taken of the bizarre school scene.
The Miller campaign released a written one-paragraph statement from Fuller, then followed with a statement titled, “Liberal Blogger ‘Loses It’ at Town Hall Meeting.” In that statement, Miller accused Hopfinger of assaulting someone and of taking advantage of the meeting to “create a publicity stunt.”
(Wait! May there’s video that shows him losing it.
Oh, it vanished off the camera..)
He said his personal security detail had to take action to detain “the irrational blogger.”
Miller campaign spokesman Randy DeSoto declined to comment or to make Miller, himself a witness, available for news interviews.
UPDATE II: Here’s the Alaska Dispatch update:
Anchorage Police freed Alaska Dispatcher editor Tony Hopfinger from Senate candidate Joe Mlller’s body guards at Central Middle School early Sunday evening. Sergeant Mark Rein of the Anchorage Police Department said Hopfinger is not in custody or under arrest.
Hopfinger had been trying to ask Miller questions when two or three guards told him to leave or risk being charged with trespassing.
When Hopfinger continued to try to ask questions, one of the guards put the reporter in an arm-bar and then handcuffed him.
Hopfinger was released after police arrived.
The reporter was on public property where a public event was being held at the time of the incident.
Miller has been adamant about his desire to avoid talking to the Alaska media, but no one in the working press in Alaska has ever before seen a candidate go to this length to avoid questions.
Alaska Dispatch editor Tony Hopfinger was handcuffed by security guards at a Joe Miller town hall event Sunday afternoon. Hopfinger says he approached Miller to ask questions, but was arrested for half an hour until police arrived.
According to Hopfinger, Miller’s security team pushed him and he pushed back because he felt his personal space was being invaded. He says guards detained him and accused him of trespassing, although the town hall was a public event held at Central Middle School, a public building.
“At some point I was suddenly surrounded by more guys, more security guards I guess,” Hopfinger said. “They were kind of putting their chest into me, and at one point I put my chest in too — it got to be too much.”
Hopfinger says the incident escalated so fast he barely remembers what happened, and that next thing he knew he was in handcuffs.
The Alaska Dispatch is one of several news organizations suing for access to Miller’s employment records at the Fairbanks North Star Borough. Miller worked at the FNSB as a part-time attorney from 2002 to 2009.
UPDATE: Steve Benan asks:
And in the larger context, I can’t help but wonder: is this what the Tea Party crowd has in mind for America’s future? In their version of “limited government,” should we expect extremists candidates to hire private security forces with the power to detain reporters who ask candidates about their background?
Is this their vision of American “freedom”?
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.