In the old days in The United States of America, a journalist didn't have to get permission to conduct an interview in a public place. But this is a new America, a place where armed security agents watch your every move and require their permission to exercise what used to be a first amendment right.
I've been a television news reporter for 33 years. I first began covering news when Richard Nixon was about to resign. I've gone to airports many times to film-yes we used to use film- and lately to video-tape and interview famous and infamous people getting on and getting off airplanes. I've been around a while and I've covered a lot of stories at airports. Things have changed.
I want to tell you what happened to me today (May 17, 2007) at Honolulu International Airport. I was assigned to meet and interview Nainoa Thompson, navigator of the Polynesian Voyaging Canoe Hokule'a. He and his crew were departing for Japan to sail their Hawaiian canoe on the final leg of an historic voyage. It was arranged for our crew to meet them on the sidewalk outside the check-in area. All I needed was a quick couple of sound bites with Nainoa and two of the young crew members who were leaving to fulfill a cultural mission of goodwill and Aloha.
I arrived with a news photographer at the Honolulu Airport and we paid to park in the parking garage. We walked to the public sidewalk in front of the check-in area where we met Nainoa and the young crewmembers. We turned on the camera and began talking with them.
This is something I have done at least a hundred times over the past 33 years. In the USA a reporter used to be able to go to any public place and interview someone without being rousted by authorities.
This was not a restricted area. We did not attempt to board an airplane, or walk past the security gate, or get out on to a runway. We were not taping near any TSA checkpoint. We were out on the sidewalk at a public facility.
While I was interviewing an 18-year old Hawaiian, asking how he felt about taking a voyage on a Hawaiian canoe several uniformed security agents walked up and stopped the interview. They insisted that we cease videotaping. They demanded to know what we were doing, who authorized us to be there, and whether we had permission.
In the United States of America that I grew up in a reporter was allowed to interview anyone in any public place, about anything, at any time, without requesting or having to be granted permission by unformed goons. Pardon me- I mean low wage security guards.
I snapped, and perhaps I should apologize to these poor rent-a-cops. I did not say it to their faces, but as I turned to go to the airport security office I did mutter an obscenity: "This is the f&#^ing United States. You don't need permission to do an interview in a public place. This is not supposed to be a goddamned fascist state!"
They heard me. Now I was asking for trouble. They called for backups. Several more armed security guards surrounded my cameraman. He told them, "It's not big deal; we're just trying to interview some people about sailing on the Hokule'a."
I went to the security office and got "permission" from airport authorities to do something that is supposed to be guaranteed under our (former) Constitution.
It saddens me to see America slipping into a state that allows armed security guards to demand "authorization" for something that used to be taken for granted. I never before had to get "permission" from "authorities" to talk to someone in a public place. I brought this up in the security office when they were so graciously "granting" me permission to resume my interview. A security guard in front of a bank of television surveillance monitors told me, "Things are different after 911."
I wonder- what does a well known television reporter interviewing young Hawaiian kids in a public place about sailing on a canoe have to do with 911? How is this a threat?
And the saddest thing for me is this- young people growing up today will simply submit. They won't even remember a time when a reporter- or any citizen- could go to an airport and talk to someone without having to get permission from authorities.
KITV News, Honolulu