Yesterday I asked Marc Cooper, the Director of Annenberg Digital News at USC’s Annenberg School For Communication, for his reaction to the John Ziegler handcuffing incident I blogged here yesterday.
Cooper is a liberal who recently compared the attendees at Tax Day’s tea parties to glue sniffers. (He also once called the commenters here bitter, angry, and delusional — so the tea party-goers should not feel uniquely attacked.) He’s not eager to say anything in praise of a conservative like John Ziegler. However, I debated Cooper at the L.A. Times web site last year and I know that, despite his politics (and his absurd view of the tea party-goers), he is more willing than most on the left to concede points that he can’t validly fight.
Cooper’s entire response is set forth below. It contains predictable huffing and puffing about how Ziegler was pulling a Michael Moore-style stunt. But I knew that was coming and I’m not particularly interested in that.
Instead, I want to focus the reader’s attention on what Cooper says about whether USC campus police should have asked Ziegler to leave, assuming that all he was trying to do was ask questions.
The answer, albeit buried within a leftist rant, is a clear no.
Cooper says: “If the only thing Ziegler or anyone else, wanted to do was to stand outside of the Davidson Conference Center on the USC campus and ask people questions as they came and went, he should absolutely have been allowed to do so and I would absolutely defend his right to do so. I see no reason to obstruct him.” He adds that based on the video, “the USC police could have made a more strenuous effort to remove Ziegler without going through the drama of handcuffing him.”
Cooper concludes that “The crux of the issue, to come full circle, is whether or not he was merely standing there trying to do interviews. If that’s all it was, then USC is in the wrong.”
I agree, and I appreciate Marc’s honesty in saying so.
Further, I believe I can tell from the video that, once Ziegler was denied admission, asking questions is all he intended to do.
Cooper’s entire response is below.
I was inside the awards ceremony at the time of the incident, so without hedging, I honestly don’t know the precise facts surrounding Ziegler’s actions or his requests or anything else he was doing outside.
If the only thing Ziegler or anyone else, wanted to do was to stand outside of the Davidson Conference Center on the USC campus and ask people questions as they came and went, he should absolutely have been allowed to do so and I would absolutely defend his right to do so. I see no reason to obstruct him. As far as I know, USC is an open campus and the First Amendment still has sway inside campus boundaries.
You and I both know that under a change of circumstances, trespassing laws begin to apply but I want to be 100% clear that I don’t have enough facts to make that determination.
In direct response to your direct question, if I were in charge of the event and all Ziegler was doing was trying to interview folks as they came and went from the conference I would have bought him a coffee and gave him a donut and wished him good luck in his endeavors. Further, if he was there to actually report on the event and NOT to provoke a partisan confrontation or to stage a provocative scene for a documentary, I would have made sure he was allowed inside the room with the rest of the media. There was virtually no security in the modest banquet room where the event was held and the press that was present was free to come and go as they pleased.
As to Couric, I couldn’t care less what Ziegler or anyone else thinks of her work. I have written publicly of her several times and I don’t believe it’s ever been in a flattering context. This isn’t a matter of ideology. It’s a question of the tension between free exercise of first amendment rights and private property rights. This is hardly the first time that a journalist, or someone with journalistic pretensions (in the case of Ziegler) has run afoul of authorities in some murky legal area of access versus privacy.
One thing is absolutely for sure: from what I saw in the video, the USC police could have made a more strenuous effort to remove Ziegler without going through the drama of handcuffing him. You know as a prosecutor that once given an order to move by police, even if an unjust or unlawful order, you MUST comply or else face arrest and be willing to sort the matter out later in court. [I ask the reader not to assume that I agree. — P] They may have felt they had no choice to cuff him. Maybe they were wrong. But by that point it was either cuff or grab him and walk him off campus.
The crux of the issue, to come full circle, is whether or not he was merely standing there trying to do interviews. If that’s all it was, then USC is in the wrong. If it was more than that, there’s a shared responsibility.
I should note that the above came after I pressed Cooper on the issue of whether he thought the police had behaved appropriately. In his initial response, Cooper had said:
Talk show pro John Zigeler’s stunt at USC was exactly that, a publicity stunt staged as a scene in a Michael Moore-like documentary he is apparently making. I am confident that if he had previously inquired or applied for credentials or had even asked to be a guest in the audience, he would have been easily able to attend the Cronkite awards. I myself arrived late and walked in without a guest badge or any other sort of I.D. and while I work at USC, the folks at the door had no idea who I was. I also chose to sit at the table I preferred even though there was assigned seating. Before the awards began, students –with no I.D. check– were allowed to sit in seats left unfilled.
That said, I think the video clearly shows that the USC authorities clearly played into Ziegler’s hands and guaranteed that his stunt would be successful. It’s easy for me to say, but there must have been a more reasonable way for the Department of Public Safety to handle the situation other than to handcuff him. On the other hand — for right or for wrong — when Ziegler was asked repeatedly to leave the site because at that point he was an uninvited guest, he repeatedly refused. His demeanor was comic and non-threatening (and why shouldn’t be as he realized the cops were so freely contributing to his film?) but my experience in the world is that, whatever your motivation, when you refuse a police order to move, you usually wind up getting cuffed, or worse.
Both sides could have handled this a whole lot better. That could have started without Ziegler deliberately trying to provoke a scene and could have ended with USC police doing something other than handcuffing a harmless clown.
To which my response was, in essence, that the “for right or for wrong” was really the only part I was interested in. Marc’s response to that was the second block quote above.
I can’t refrain from noting that Marc’s “when the cops tell you to move, you gotta move” attitude wasn’t much in evidence in his May 2007 L.A. Times piece on the May Day MacArthur Park immigration rally melee.
But nobody’s really too surprised by that. As I said, he’s a liberal.
Although I do not agree with everything he says, I thank Marc for his responses.
UPDATE: Turns out Marc already posted a lot of this on his blog, here, along with a lot more verbiage unfavorable to Ziegler’s position from school officials and a campus Republican.