Media Can Avoid NYPD Arrest By Getting Press Pass They Can’t Get

To employ a tired journalism cliche, call it a classic Catch-22.

Stu Loeser, a spokesman for New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg, says the best way for reporters to avoid being arrested while covering Occupy Wall Street is to carry a press pass issued by the New York Police Department. [UPDATE: Loeser says that’s not what he meant. Details below.]

But the NYPD isn’t issuing press passes to reporters covering Occupy Wall Street, as we learned when we contacted them Thursday.

“We aren’t issuing press credentials to reporters covering Occupy Wall Street,” said Detective Gina Sarubbi, NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner of Public Information.

So far the NYPD has arrested  26 journalists covering the protests in New York this week,  including two AP reporters and a Vanity Fair photographer. Loeser  defended the arrests Thursday, according to a memo reprinted by The New York Observer. “You can imagine my surprise when we found that only five of the 26 arrested reporters actually have valid NYPD-issued press credentials,” he wrote.

Loeser added, in a tweet to Megan McCarthy, the news editor at The New York Observer (and a former Wired writer), “you don’t have a press pass; that’s your option. But why should some random NYPD take your word that you’re press?”

But Detective Sarubbi said that even if the NYPD were issuing press passes to cover the protests, there are no appointments available to get a press pass before January 2012.

Sarubbi added that press credentials aren’t even useful for covering Occupy Wall Street or avoiding being hit by the NYPD.

“It’s not that hard to cover a story on the street without getting punched, hit and kicked,” Sarubbi said.

Loeser called Wired after this story ran to say that Sarubbi is exactly right. He disputed that his Tweets and his memo diminishing the arrests of journalists by pointing out only a few had NYPD-issued passes imply that reporters covering Occupy Wall Street should get credentials from the police.

“Anybody can go into Zuccotti park and write a story,” Loeser said.

The NYPD press pass is restricted to reporters who regularly need to cross police lines, say at a fire or a crime scene, according to Loeser. To prove eligibility reporters have to show they have covered spot news – that involves crossing a police line in New York City six times in the past year, according to Loeser. Those rules came from a court settlement with bloggers who said the old rules left them out in the cold without passes.

Wired has been trying to get NYPD press credentials for freelancer Quinn Norton, who is on special assignment to cover the Occupy movement. Even before this week’s arrests, the NYPD made it clear they would not issue her credentials, as she first had to comply with Kafka-esque rules, such as proving she’d already covered six on-the-spot events in New York City — events that you would actually need a press pass to cover.

When I asked if six stories on Occupy Wall Street would count, Sarubbi said no.

I then tried to make the case that issuing press passes to legitimate reporters might help prevent arrests and prevent police from beating reporters, as happened to two journalists for the conservative Daily Caller on Thursday, and that the lack of spots until January seemed odd, and Sarubbi got angry.

“Don’t tell me how to do my job and I won’t tell you how to do yours,” she said.

Sarubbi then hung up without even a goodbye.

Updated Friday 2:30 PM PST with comment from Stu Loeser.

Photo: Press interview of an Occupy Wall Street protestor on Oct. 14. Credit: Pamela Drew/Flickr