Yesterday, Washington Post executive editor Martin Baron found himself defending an imprisoned reporter caught up in another country’s Kafkaesque legal system. Later that evening, he found himself defending a Washington Post reporter caught up in the capriciousness of our own.
“Wes Lowery should never have been arrested in the first place,” Baron said in a statement on the Washington Post reporter who has been charged with trespassing and interfering with a police officer, almost a year after he was arrested at a McDonald’s while covering the Ferguson protests over the police shooting death of Michael Brown. “That was an abuse of police authority,” Baron continued. “This latest action represents contemptible overreaching by prosecutors who seem to have no regard for the role of journalists seeking to cover a major story and following normal practice.”
A few hours after Lowery’s summons was made public, St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Valerie Schremp Hahn tweeted that Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly, who had been arrested along with Lowery at the McDonald’s that day, was also being charged. As the two kept their humor on their Twitter feeds, the Huffington Post and the National Association of Black Journalists issued their own statements defending the journalists.
From Lowery’s and Reilly’s Twitter feeds:
— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) August 11, 2015
for what it’s worth: @ryanjreilly and I had a bet about whether or not we’d get charged (statute of limitations was a year). Ryan won
— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) August 10, 2015
In Huffington Post’s statement, Washington bureau chief Ryan Grim and senior politics editor Sam Stein affirmed that the publication was fully behind its reporter. “A crime was committed at the McDonald’s,” read the statement, “not by journalists, but by local police who assaulted both Ryan and Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post during violent arrests.” The pair also acknowledged the likely, hidden depths of prosecutorial indiscretion. “If Wesley Lowery and Ryan J. Reilly can be charged like this with the whole country watching, just imagine what happens when nobody is.”
Quoted in NABJ’s statement, president Sarah Glover defended the right of journalists to “do their jobs, pursue the truth and publish it.” The statement called the St. Louis County action a “direct assault on the free exercise of the First Amendment.”
Lowery is slated to appear in court on Aug. 24. If convicted, Lowery and Reilly could face up to a year in jail and a $1000 fine. Lowery told CNN’s Brian Stelter in a phone interview that the Post’s legal team is focused on figuring out its next move.
[Image via Jamelle Bouie]