Word spread quickly Saturday that an Alaska journalist was detained by private security guards at a town hall event for Republican Joe Miller, who is running for the Senate. Tony Hopfinger, editor of the Alaska Dispatch, was handcuffed, thrown against a wall, and held until police arrived and released him, according to news reports.
That a journalist would be harassed for asking questions at a political candidate’s public event is surprising. But it’s hardly an isolated incident.
Veteran investigative journalist Maggie Mulvihill was recently questioned by police while reporting for a Center for Public Integrity story about lawmakers who publicly criticized the economic stimulus bill then privately requested funding for pet projects.
After Sen. Scott Brown’s press aide ignored repeated requests from the Center for comment, she drove to the Republican’s house in Wrentham, Mass. Mulvihill, a journalist with the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, says she has made similar home visits over her 20-year career to reach politicians such as former Govs. Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci, and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.
“None of them ever really seemed to mind. I generally got a quote or two for my story and said goodnight,” Mulvihill told the Center. “To both of us, the encounter was usually a mildly irritating but necessary part of our jobs.”
Brown, answered the door last Wednesday dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, and appeared “displeased to have a reporter arrive at 8:30 at night to question him about his stance on the stimulus bill,” she said. The freshman senator invited Mulvihill in, curtly answered a few questions, and then referred her to his press office for more information before asking her to leave.
Within minutes of driving away from his home, Mulvihill noticed a car following her. She describes what happened next:
“I decided to pull over into an empty parking lot and then saw the car pull behind me, blue lights flashing. The Wrentham police officer who took my license and registration asked me why I was at Brown’s house and I told him. The officer denied Sen. Brown called the police and said he noticed me during a routine patrol of the neighborhood.”
Mulvihill says when she asked the police officer why he stopped her, he responded, “’It’s just part of the job’.” Soon afterward, the officer let Mulvihill go on her way, following her car until it left the town.
Mulvihill said she understands. “Whether you are reporting, policing, or answering to the people who elected you, some things are just part of the job.”
Sen. Brown’s office did not return a request for comment.