Over the four relatively uneventful days of protest outside the Republican National Convention, national news crews and smaller affiliates have been flanked by men with ear pieces and Ray-Bans, as fears of riots compelled management to hire private security teams. But by the end of this convention, the sight of a single protester being surrounded by a hundred members of the media has become commonplace, with personal security teams standing watch to make sure that somehow the situation doesn’t get out of hand. So far at the RNC, there’s only been 23 arrests.
“It’s reassuring to have them with us,” explained one cameraman who was lounging in the shade in Public Square, where the majority of the demonstration have taken place. He said he’d never had a security team with him before. “Honestly, it’s nice to have them watch over the equipment.” Across the street, an NBC News crew did an interview, as a private security guard followed closely behind. They declined comment.
In the run-up to the convention, this reporter was bombarded by emails from PR firms and consultants offering tips and equipment for covering the convention. Apparently, those same emails made it to management at news companies, who followed through with giving these security firms business.
“Somebody at the corporate level made the decision to send us out with these security teams,” said one newscaster who insisted on remaining anonymous. “Our whole affiliate network sent twelve security guys into the field.”
This particular team’s security guy sported the classic look: an earpiece, backpack, sunglasses, and cargo pants.
“I’m not here to protect anyone but the news team. If something is happening, I can either get in the way of whatever’s coming at them, or get them out of the way,” he told me.
At a protest on Sunday, an anti-war demonstrator screamed in the face of a barrel-chested man in a khaki shirt and camouflage pants, asking him if he worked for the FBI. The man told him he’d rather not answer. Later, he was seen clearing space during a march for a well-coiffed newscaster from an ABC affiliate.
Other news teams have gone without security, and have safely made it through the scattershot protests free of incident. Well, at least incidents involving protesters. Toronto newscaster Travis Dhanraj was smashed into by police bikes as they attempted to clear a rally. “They just picked up their bikes and bashed them into me. No warning,” he said. He had brought a gas mask (pictured below) as his only security measure, and hasn’t had to use it.
NY1 anchor Errol Louis wasn’t provided with a security team, but his bosses at Time Warner Cable did give him a helmet to protect him if things got out of hand. Like everyone else, he hasn’t had to use any of it. He said the company cited a shortage of available security as one of the reasons they didn’t hire any of the Ray-Ban commandos, but being a New Yorker, he feels like he’s adequately prepared for any event: “I trust my instincts way more than any equipment.”