Is Howard Wolfson right about press restrictions during the Zuccotti Park raid?

Zuccotti Park. (Dan Nguyen via flickr.)
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In an interview with CNN yesterday, Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson presented his defense of the city's decision to prohibit press coverage of the late-night raid on the Zuccotti Park encampment that had been the hub of the Occupy Wall Street protests.

"In the middle of an active, ongoing police action, you don't have reporters along," he said.

"Many times reporters observe operations like this," the host pushed back.

"This is not an episode of Cops," Wolfson said. "We don't take reporters when we're busting down doors."

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There is some basis in the law for Wolfson's idea that the press can be excluded from certain kinds of government operations, according to Ellen Yaroshefsky, who's a professor at the Cardozo School of Law.

"You can imagine a very narrow circumstance where police are arresting someone and don't wanna show who it is, or if they need to keep their identity secret, if they think they're violent," said Yaroshefsky. "Those are circumstances that could justify a very narrow restriction."

"But we have a very robust view of the role of the press here," she said. "It is not an adequate defense in these circumstances. The press had every right to be there. That action did not fit into any category of an emergency or danger that might justify any sort of restriction."

It's the First Amendment, really, that's at issue, she said. The reporters were there to document the police arrests of protesters who would not leave the park; was arresting them for staying a violation of the First Amendment, we asked? 

"Absolutely," she said. "It was troubling that the police violated the Constitution in such a blatant way."