On Feb. 15, an unidentified person posing as some kind of photojournalist created a stir in Missouri City as he walked along the sidewalk in front of the police department shooting video of the building, personal cars in the parking lot and the fallen officers memorial in front of the building.
He was initially contacted by Officer Lewis Jefferson, who introduced himself and asked who he was and what he was doing. The photographer said he was filming exterior shots of the police department but, citing his right to privacy, declined to give his name.
A short time later Jefferson returned with Sgt. Phillip Englishbee, who again asked the man what he was doing and asked to see his identification. Englishbee and Jefferson handcuffed him and briefly detained him after he repeatedly declined to comply with their demand for identification. The man asked to see the police chief or an assistant police chief, and when Assistant Chief Lance Bothell came out, the photographer presented him with a business card and was released.
The confrontation has been posted in a pair of videos on a YouTube channel operated by News Now Houston, which appears to be operated by this so-called photojournalist.
Now, as the late, great radio commentator Paul Harvey used to say, you’ve heard the news, now here’s the rest of the story.
Since we published a story about the incident in last week’s paper, I’ve had additional time to look more closely into the matter. The photographer has been identified as Earl David Worden of Bacliff in Galveston County. Worden operates News Now Houston and is part of an organization called Photography is Not a Crime. Basically, he is a professional police-baiter. He films at public but sensitive places like police stations and oil refineries in an attempt to get police to confront him. Inevitably they do, and he posts videos of the confrontations on YouTube and decries the violation of his first amendment rights.
He was successful in using that form of instigative (not investigative) reporting in Missouri City. The police fell right into his trap and he played them like a fiddle. To be sure, the police officers were in the wrong to detain him. That was a big mistake on their part and now a lesson learned.
Please understand that there is an enormous difference between what Worden does and what real, trained, professional journalists do. In my 30-year career I have had my share of run-ins with law enforcement officers who have tried to stop me from performing my job as a reporter. More often than not, that is a rarity and I find most officers to be helpful and accommodating.
What Worden and his cohorts do is intentionally antagonize the police. His activities appear to push the limits of free speech. I have a great deal of respect for all defenders of the first amendment, but I draw the line at those who intentionally abuse that right and maliciously attempt to entrap others, especially the police.
The men and women who put their lives on the line day in and day out to “serve and protect” have a difficult enough time given the current state of affairs in this country. The last thing they need is someone bent on tripping them up and publicly shaming them.
I understand what Worden is doing; I just strongly disagree with his tactics. If someone were videotaping the outside of my house, even though it would be perfectly legal, I would consider that a potential threat and would call the police to investigate. I highly doubt Worden would want anyone standing outside his house shooting video, especially a police officer, which they would be within their right to do.
I now have to question Worden’s motive. I suspect the fact that he is a registered sex offender and has a history of legal trouble probably points to his disdain for law enforcement officers. This is speculation on my part and I could be wrong, but I doubt it.
The biggest issue I have with Worden and his ilk is the damage they do to the reputation of real journalists. You must understand that what he is doing is not journalism. He is not a reporter. He does not work for a legitimate newsgathering organization. Yes, the first amendment gives him the right to do what he does, but he does so in an irresponsible and disrespectful manner.
A real journalist will be upfront and above board with what they are doing. We have credentials and if they are not on display while we are working, they are readily made available upon request. A real journalist does not hide behind anonymity. A real reporter will investigate all sides of an issue and seek the truth. That is not what Worden does. He wields his camera as a weapon in the arena of public opinion. He has a one-sided vendetta against the police.
I spent four years in college earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism. I have worked in newspapers for 30 years. As a trained and educated professional, I’m held to a much higher standard and I don’t hide behind the anonymity of the Internet like this coward does.
My name is Joe Southern. I’m the editor of the Fort Bend Star and I’m proud of the work I do. I stand behind my name and my employer and I work diligently to maintain the quality and integrity of my reputation and our product.
It’s this dedication to my integrity that I must now confess to the second monumental failure I mentioned at the beginning of this column. I failed to investigate this more thoroughly before going to press with it. Worden wanted publicity and I played into his hands just like the Missouri City police officers did. Had I been aware of who and what Worden is before the story ran, it would have never seen a drop of ink in our pages. That is my mistake and my shame. I apologize to the officers involved and to you the readers.