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Law enforcement shouldn’t punish any form of America’s free press

November 16, 2008

After the Penn State football team beat Ohio State on Oct. 25, a large, unruly crowd surged into the streets of State College, Pa., to "celebrate." As so often happens in such situations, things turned ugly. A riot broke out.

Now, Pennsylvania authorities have charged 14 people with crimes in connection with the disturbance. Most are accused of offenses such as destruction of property.

One, Penn State student Michael Felleter, 20, was arrested for doing his job as a staff photographer for a campus newspaper. He is charged with disorderly conduct and failure to disperse when ordered to do so by police.

It appears that Felleter's only crime was attempting to take pictures of the disturbance, and continuing to do so after police ordered him and others to leave the area.

If that is so, the charges should be dropped. Americans depend on the news media to tell them about events such as the State College riot. Normally, police take that special role into account and allow press photographers and reporters at least some leeway.

That is not a concession to the news media. It is, instead, a recognition of the special role journalists play in our society.

Our nation's security, and that of all Americans, depends on a free, unfettered, vigorous press. Law enforcement agencies should not punish journalists for providing just that.



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