Leaders and reporters were barred from talking to one another. Security guards and armed police officers body-blocked a member of the press. A policeman threatened to call the FBI if a man didn’t delete the photos on his phone.
This wasn’t a third world country. It wasn’t even Ferguson, Missouri, where police clashed violently with protesters and the media after an unarmed teen was shot dead by police. No, this all happened at the annual Space and Missile Defense Symposium in Huntsville, Alabama.
In a short-sighted attempt to control the press, show organizers enlisted security guards and local police officers to shadow and in some cases harass journalists and enforce non-existent policies that barred them from talking to speakers, photographing exhibits or briefing slides, all of which clearly said they were “Approved for Public Release.”
Defense journalists are more than familiar with industry or government leaders who request that a speech or comments be off the record, or who decline to answer questions after a presentation, or who ask an audience to refrain from taking pictures of slides. But to bar reporters from asking questions and physically intimidate attendees at an open, public forum designed to promote communication, interaction and shared knowledge among the industry and its customers? That’s ridiculous.
To their credit, the show committee — comprising representatives from the National Defense Industrial Association, the Air, Space and Missile Defense Association, and the Air Defense Artillery Association — have removed the committee member responsible for that overreach. But this should never have happened in the first place.
This was not a secret hearing held behind closed doors. It was a public event, one of many that provide military, government and industry officials a forum to foster sharing and collaboration.
The actions taken at this event were surely an effort to protect US interests. How ironic that they so violated the spirit of American democracy.