Police later fatally shot the gunman after he fired on them from the house. Collier and his colleague were unhurt but shaken. “I think I’m okay,” the reporter told The Washington Post on Tuesday evening. “It’s going to take a while to process this.”
The unprovoked attack was extreme but hardly isolated. In recent months, local TV news crews have faced verbal and physical abuse while on the job. A few reporters have been injured. Some have been robbed or had their equipment damaged.
Among recent incidents:
●A man stole a car used by a Raleigh TV reporter and video journalist moments after they ended a live report last week, setting off a high-speed chase that ended with the man crashing into a highway patrol officer’s car. No one was hurt.
●Two armed culprits attempted to rob a San Francisco TV crew’s camera and equipment last month as they were conducting an interview outside Oakland City Hall. The robbery was thwarted by a security guard who pulled a gun on the would-be robbers. The journalists were interviewing a city official in charge of violence-prevention efforts.
●A reporter and video journalist reporting on unruly crowds in Miami Beach were pushed and shoved by bystanders while covering the story in May.
●The Justice Department filed charges last week against demonstrators at the Jan. 6 Capitol riot who allegedly assaulted reporters and smashed TV cameras, tripods, lights and other equipment. Videos showed supporters of President Donald Trump destroying the equipment as rioters sought to disrupt a congressional vote certifying the election of President Biden.
The episodes continued the trend of 2020, which may have been the most dangerous year in history for TV reporters in the United States.
One in 5 TV news directors surveyed by the Radio Television Digital News Association said their crews had been attacked at some point last year. About half of the episodes stemmed from covering mass gatherings, such as the protests that followed the murder of George Floyd and demonstrations protesting pandemic shutdowns.
But about 15 percent of the episodes occurred at random, involving no protest or rally.
“What we’re seeing now is part of a disturbing trend of [TV] journalists being in jeopardy in what otherwise are routine stories,” said Dan Shelley, the organization’s executive director. “It’s not just riots and protests. . . . Many people feel as if they have permission to be aggressive toward journalists.”
Unlike other kinds of reporters, the TV kind are especially conspicuous members of the news media. TV crews often travel to the scene of news stories in vans or satellite trucks splashed with station logos. They carry cameras and equipment and often do live reports, known as “stand-ups,” amid crowds and newsworthy backdrops, making them easy targets.
Station managers who responded to the industry survey said their journalists had been verbally harassed, punched, slapped, shoved, spat on, robbed at gunpoint, and hit with rocks and water bottles. At a rally for Trump, one attendee “deliberately coughed on our reporter,” one news director reported.
Many of the culprits were demonstrators, managers said, but police have also been involved in roughing up journalists.
The number of incidents last year appears to have prompted a wholesale reassessment of security precautions, with 86 percent of station managers reporting some changes in the past year.
Some stations have gotten rid of logos on company vehicles and on reporters’ clothing to lower their profile. Many said they no longer assign a lone “multimedia” journalist to cover potentially dangerous stories, instead using two- and three-person crews that include a “spotter,” or security aide. One station said its news director had purchased a handgun for additional protection.
Some of the increased threat may be an upshot of the pandemic and the tensions created by shutdowns and economic disruption, said Bob Papper, an adjunct professor at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications who conducted the industry survey.
But he blames some of it on the continuing demonization of the news media by Trump and his allies, including those in the conservative media.
“It’s clear a lot of people are still angry, and they’re angry at the media,” he said. “It’s the expected consequence of calling the media ‘the enemy of the people.’ ”
The news association has backed a bill introduced by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) that would make it a federal crime to “intentionally intimidate” or cause bodily harm to a journalist while reporting the news. The Journalist Protection Act was introduced in early 2018 but has gone nowhere in Congress since then.
Collier, the San Antonio reporter who was caught up in the shooting Monday, said he has been threatened several times in the past two years, though nothing as extreme as Monday’s incident.
“Since the pandemic started,” he said, “people have become very ugly toward the news media. I think people came out of the lockdown different. There was a psychological change in people. There’s a lot of anger out there. Some of it is directed at us.”