After more than a week of protests, arrests, and clashes with police following the police shooting of Michael Brown, the FAA renewed a flight ban over Ferguson, Missouri. Rachel Maddow pointed out how the no-fly zone inhibited the media's ability to cover the story and thereby hurt the American public's ability to understand the situation on the ground.
From the August 19 Rachel Maddow Show:
Rachel Maddow: And it was hard to know for sure, but that's a really important part of the story, that we honestly cannot witness from the perspectives that we are allowed and we thereby cannot communicate to you at home trying to be an educated news consumer about this story. We cannot communicate an important part of what police are doing on the streets of this town. We can see what's directly in front of our ground level vantage points, but it has been impossible to tell how scenes like this related to, say, the streets nearby.
That kind of perspective is why news organizations use helicopters in the first place. Without a view from high up, in a circumstance like this, it is hard to get beyond the running moment-to-moment experiential level.
And frankly, that is not enough to accurately and objectively report on the rationality and reasonableness and the effectiveness of police tactics and protesters' tactics. It's hard to tell what's happening when you can only see it from five feet off the ground.
And part of the reason we cannot tell what's happening from a better vantage point is that the media just literally cannot show it. Physically, the media is not being allowed to show what we need to be able to show in order to characterize this in a way that is objective and makes the most sense.
According to the AP, that was the intended effect.
They published this story today:
The U.S. government agreed to a police request to restrict more than 37 square miles of airspace surrounding Ferguson, Missouri, for 12 days in August for safety, but audio recordings show that local authorities privately acknowledged the purpose was to keep away news helicopters during violent street protests.
On Aug. 12, the morning after the Federal Aviation Administration imposed the first flight restriction, FAA air traffic managers struggled to redefine the flight ban to let commercial flights operate at nearby Lambert-St. Louis International Airport and police helicopters fly through the area — but ban others.
"They finally admitted it really was to keep the media out," said one FAA manager about the St. Louis County Police in a series of recorded telephone conversations obtained by The Associated Press.
And, they included audio! Listen here (mp3) to the FAA manager quoted above. In another clip, an FAA official is heard asking the Kansas City manager in charge about the reason for the flight ban, pointing out that keeping out the press is something "they can't do." (mp3)
Attorney General Eric Holder was asked about this today. He was asked if the FAA’s complicity in the ban might be an actionable offense.
Q: The FAA was complicit in certain targeted flight restrictions. Targeted in the sense that if you were a news helicopter you couldn't come in, if you were on approach to an airport then you were OK. Is that actionable by the Justice Department?
HOLDER: I don’t know. I, you know, I’m not sure. As I said I don’t know all the facts of what you know what the nature of the request was, what kind of interaction there was between the FAA and the requestors.
Kudos to the AP for staying on this story!