CNN aired a viral video on Sunday of U.S. secret police kidnapping people in Portland, Oregon — a tactic that White House officials say could be coming to several other cities in the coming weeks. CNN made an odd journalistic choice to blur the faces of the police in the video, but CNN’s Jake Tapper took to Twitter yesterday to insist it’s all a big misunderstanding. The only problem with Tapper’s explanation? This isn’t the first time his show has obscured the faces of Trump’s goons to keep them anonymous.
“Thanks for bringing this to our attention; I didn’t see it when it happened,” Tapper tweeted on Sunday after Gizmodo asked him what was going on with the blurred video.
“I looked into it and someone misunderstood an instruction to blur the *protester’s* face,” Tapper continued. “Thanks again for letting us know so we could fix it, which we’ve done.”
The “someone” who “misunderstood” what they should be blurring was presumably a video editor, but Tapper didn’t elaborate. Nor did he address the fact that this isn’t the first time his show has blurred the faces of shadowy government officers on U.S. streets who won’t identify the federal agency they may be working for. U.S. Customs and Border Protection have since taken credit for this particular abduction.
The original viral video was recorded by Twitter user Matcha Chai and became popular on Twitter because the heavily armed forces don’t appear to identify themselves before grabbing a person and throwing him in an unmarked minivan. Matcha Chai, who has been documenting the Black Lives Matter protests in Portland, even complained on Twitter that CNN didn’t bother to ask permission to use the footage.
These federal officers (?) just rushed up and arrested someone for no reason pic.twitter.com/xcFVuoMZmN
— Matcha chai (@matcha_chai) July 15, 2020
The CNN clip, which is available on YouTube, oddly credits Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley for the video, despite the fact that he just retweeted it. The senator didn’t blur the faces of Trump’s thugs — something you’re not able to do with a retweet — that was simply CNN’s choice.
It’s not clear what Tapper means when he says that they’ve fixed it, and it’s even less clear why he’d thank anyone for letting him know what’s happening on his own show.
This isn’t the first time CNN has blurred the faces of federal agents who are currently terrorizing Americans. Tapper’s show did the exact same thing just a couple of days earlier. If this was an honest mistake by a video editor, shouldn’t it have been identified a couple of days earlier when they first aired the footage with blurs on July 17?
— The Lead CNN (@TheLeadCNN) July 17, 2020
To make it all even more confusing, CNN blurred the faces of people who were already obscuring their own faces with masks. One officer pulls his face mask up as he realises that he’s being recorded, as you can see in the video. We’ve made a GIF of that moment below.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, one of several divisions under the Department of Homeland Security, finally took credit for this particular arrest after days of speculation last week. But CBP says the men identified themselves as federal officers, something that’s clearly contradicted by the viral video.
“The CBP agents identified themselves and were wearing CBP insignia during the encounter,” CBP said in a false statement to the Washington Post. “The names of the agents were not displayed due to recent doxing incidents against law enforcement personnel who serve and protect our country.”
As anyone can see in the video, the only identification on their uniforms simply says “Police,” and they don’t identify themselves at all. CBP has repeatedly lied about things large and small, from the existence of the family separation policy to the deaths of kids in CBP custody, so it’s no surprise that they appear to lie in this case as well.
Several other videos have surfaced online showing similar abductions by masked police who aren’t wearing any clear insignia to indicate who they may be associated with. Other videos of masked officers terrorising people as they lie down, injured on the pavement, show just how dire things are getting in Portland.
Federal agents in civilian vans. pic.twitter.com/8l7nVfsxSE
— Cozca (@KohzKah) July 15, 2020
Local officials in Oregon have asked the federal officers to leave, but DHS has refused that request. Reporting from the New York Times indicates that DHS officers have not been trained for riot control or mass demonstrations, and a memo obtained by the Times suggests these tactics are going to be rolled out in several other cities soon.
Acting Homeland Security chief Chad Wolf called the protesters “violent anarchists” last week and just yesterday White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told Fox News they’re heading to places like Chicago and Milwaukee.
“Attorney General Barr is weighing in on that with Secretary Wolf, and you’ll see something rolled out this week, as we start to go in and make sure that the communities, whether it’s Chicago or Portland or Milwaukee or someplace across the heartland of the country, we need to make sure their communities are safe,” Meadows told Fox News on Sunday.
These tactics should obviously terrify every American. The Washington Post spoke with one 29-year-old protester who was illegally detained by these secret police in Portland. Federal officers never even told him what he supposedly did wrong, according to the protester:
He was detained and searched. One man asked him if he had any weapons; he did not. They drove him to the federal courthouse and placed him in a holding cell, he said. Two officers eventually returned to read his Miranda rights and ask if he would waive those rights to answer a few questions; he did not.
Almost as suddenly as they had grabbed him off the street, the men let him go. The federal officers who snatched him off the street as he was walking home from a peaceful protest did not tell him why he had been detained or provide him any record of an arrest, he told The Post. As far as he knows, he has not been charged with any crimes. And, Pettibone said, he did not know who detained him.
It’s not just CNN that’s made questionable decisions about blurring faces during the Black Lives Matter protests. In early June, Chicago’s local ABC-TV affiliate ABC7 blurred the faces of armed white people attempting to intimidate a small Black Lives Matter protest, while leaving the faces of the protesters unblurred.
There’s no single journalistic standard for when to blur or not blur faces in U.S. media. Typically, the most common practice is to blur faces of irrelevant figures when presenting an old photo of someone accused of a crime — say, a friend or family member of the accused. And there are often special considerations made for blurring the faces of children when other aspects of a given photo or video clip are important to show. But overall, American media tends not to alter footage by adding blurs to hide the identify of the people they’re covering, especially when they’re out on public streets.
Fox News, of course, is in a different category and has previously cut President Trump out of photos with the late pedophile Jeffrey Epstein and his alleged accomplice Ghislaine Maxwell.
It’s much more common for British, New Zealand, and Australian news outlets to blur the faces of accused criminals because there are stricter laws about what can be reported and different norms about the presumption of innocence in court. But any American media outlet that adds a blur to someone’s face is making a choice. Tapper might defend this one as a “misunderstanding,” but it’s a misunderstanding that aired on TV multiple times.
If secret police are going to continue abducting people in unmarked vans, it’s more important than ever that news organisations provide eyes and ears on the ground to document this descent into fascism. It may seem like small potatoes, but blurring the faces of secret police might ultimately keep victims of police brutality from getting justice. And with Trump in office, some kind of hypothetical future justice is all we can hope for at this point.