On Tuesday, Aug. 22, U.S. President Donald Trump spoke at a major political rally in Phoenix, Arizona. Tensions in the country were high since white nativists and counter-protesters clashed in Charlottesville, and all reports suggested that demonstrations outside this rally were going to be massive. The city’s mayor had even asked Trump not to come.
ReutersTV producers Jonah Green and Mike Wood were there with a plan to capture the sights and sounds of the rally to give viewers a better sense of what it felt like on the ground. That required getting close to the action.
When they arrived at the Phoenix Convention Center hours before Trump’s rally was due to begin hundreds of people were already lined up in the 106-degree heat for a chance to hear the president. Some used their “DRAIN THE SWAMP” signs as fans.
Protesters also began filling the streets, and arguments broke out in pockets throughout the crowd.
These often-raucous Trump rallies – especially those in which he criticizes the press in front of the crowd – create a new challenge.
Our journalists must use their hostile environment training, which teaches them how to stay safe amid hostile crowds and even in war zones, to protect themselves and be alert to a new danger – the one that emerges when people decide that those very journalists are the enemy.
Green and Wood followed three principles in Phoenix: work as a team - one filming, one watching the crowd while being ready to move to safety if necessary; say and do nothing when provoked to avoid inflaming the situation; and filming from a safe distance while staying close enough to show police efforts to disperse the crowd.
Outside the convention hall a man in a straw hat and a woman wearing an American flag cape asked where the producers were from. When they said “Reuters,” the man berated them for being British. Green said he was a New Yorker (Wood is British). Still, the pair continued following the Reuters team around the crowd, shouting in a sort of call-and-response session:
“And now you’ve got a guy from Britain coming here to cover America!”
“He’s from Britain, everybody!”
“He’s not even American! And he’s coming over here trying to cover us, like he knows shit.”
The Reuters team continued filming, although that footage was not included in our report.
After the event, Green returned to his hotel to edit the video for Reuters TV and Wood, a veteran video journalist who has filmed street violence in the U.K. and more recently in Baltimore and Washington, stayed on the street to monitor the protests.
Wood was filming Trump supporters being heckled by a small group of protesters when he saw police in riot gear carrying crowd-control pepper-bullet shotguns and paintball guns. They were running to the other end of the block, screaming at people to move out of the way. He followed them, camera rolling.
He stopped short when two explosions went off – the type used to disperse violent crowds – and acrid smoke filled the streets. He and some other media camera-people ducked behind a line of police in body armor and filmed the show of force from a safe position.
That kind of attention to personal safety combined with a desire to get the best and most accurate story possible gave our viewers an objective look at the type of event that has become a regular feature on the American political scene.