Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan wasn’t happy with an article that a reporter had written about his department, so he did what any of us would do.
He sent an armed police officer to the reporter’s house at 12:45 a.m. to demand a change.
Bay Area News Group reporter Doug Oakley was a little freaked out by the post-midnight visit. He and his wife figured a relative had died or something.
Oakley made some changes before going back to bed.
But the following morning, the chief was coming under fire from First Amendment experts who said his actions were “despicable, totally despicable.”
“It’s the most intimidating type of (censorship) possible because the person trying to exercise it carries a gun,” said Jim Ewert, general counsel of the California Newspaper Publisher’s Association.
But Meehan was surprised that Oakley would be taken aback by the visit because he specifically sent a sergeant who regularly deals with the media.
“Ordering a police officer to a journalist’s home in the middle of the night to demand changes to a story is an attempt at ‘censorship by intimidation,’ Scheer said. “It definitely crossed the line. It’s a violation of the First Amendment, let’s be perfectly clear.” It “goes to such an extreme it’s hard to imagine.”
Ewert said the chief should have just called the newspaper the next day or written a letter to the editor.
The story had to do with the lack of response of police to the eventual murder of a man who had called their non-emergency line to report a prowler. Police were busy with an Occupy protest, so they were only responding to 911 emergency calls.
It’s true Cukor should have dialed 911 but it’s also doubtful that the Occupy protest was so overwhelming that officers had to ignore the rest of the city.
After all, it didn’t long for Meehan to dispatch his sergeant to Oakley’s home and that was far from an emergency.
I would have likely ended up back in jail.
But government officials regularly attempt to intimidate journalists from publishing the truth.
Of course by then, it really didn’t matter because his video had gone viral with more than 1 million views.