Fox News reporter Leland Vittert, his cameraman and two security officers were harassed and struck by protesters in Lafayette Park as they covered the demonstration near the White House early on Saturday.
In an interview with Deadline, Vittert described how a number of those in the crowd turned their anger on the network, before about 30 to 40 surrounded them to the point where he and his crew banded together to make a brisk exit from the park.
“The last time I was this sort of scared in a crowd or something like that was in Tahrir Square,” Vittert said, referring to covering the Eqyptian protests in the Arab Spring of 2011. “There was a group from the Muslim Brotherhood that surrounded us, and a similar thing happened. But it was equally… it was very, very frightening. Had we not been able to push through and stay together, I think things could have ended very poorly.”
Anchor Shannon Bream went to Vittert at 12:56 AM ET, and he told her, “We have some media critics out here.” About a half dozen protesters could be seen surrounding him and chanting “F— Fox News,” and one lunged at Vittert as he was reporting. Then, after only a brief time on air, Vittert turned it back over to Bream.
But the situation descended quickly for Vittert, cameraman Christian Galdabini and two Fox security staffers, as the crowd of around them grew bigger and their chants against the network grew louder. The Daily Caller captured the scene as they tried to link their arms together as they left the park and made their way up 16th street.
“We were all linked together to try to stay together to push through, and things got a little rough, and somebody chucked it at me and somebody else picked it up and started beating me with it,” Vittert said. He said that in the middle of Lafayette Park they did not spot police officers, and the Secret Service was on the other side of the barricades.
Vittert said that they also were hit with water bottles, and they also were punched. A Fox News camera was broken when one of the protesters attempted to grab it. One of the security staffers was punched in the face and knocked to the ground, he said.
He said that they reached a police cruiser about a block and a half away, but the officer “wouldn’t get out of his car, and I don’t know if that was because of protocol or whether he just saw the huge mob. We just hugged the police cruiser, and about a minute or two minutes later a big team of Metro Police or D.C. riot police walked down and the crowd kind of backed up and we explained what happened.”
He said that during the evening, they had standing behind the row of protesters who were up against a barricade separating the park from Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, with the Secret Service lined up on the other side.
Vittert said that there was one younger man, who he described as white, of a slight build, wearing glasses, a green hoodie and a black and white bandana over his face, who was recording them, and he kept asking, “Who are you with? Who are you with?” Vittert said that he just tried to “deflect and move on,” but the man was “pretty insistent for an hour and a half.”
“He was clearly sort of following us and watching us and tracking us, and at about 12:55, as I was sitting there about to do my live shot, he kept looking to his phone off to my left and he pulls out a picture of me, a screenshot, and he says to a couple of other people, ‘This is the guy from Fox News,'” Vittert said. “And it was a screenshot of a tweet that someone put up from one of my earlier reports. And just as [Bream] came to me, two or three other people jumped in front of the camera and yelled, ‘F— Fox News.'”
Vittert said that in contrast to other situations he has been in, “This was not people shouting you down, if you will. This was an organized attack.”
He said, “What made this so different was, it went from us documenting the protest, to being protested against, and even when we tried to leave. the protesters changed from protesting President Trump and Black Lives Matter and police brutality and the other things they were there air their grievances about, to actively attacking us with a lot of the tactics they used against the Secret Service.”
In a memo to staffers on Saturday, Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott said, “We strongly condemn these actions against Fox News Media reporting teams as well as all other reporters from any media outlets who are simply doing their jobs and report the news during an extraordinary time in our nation’s history. Yesterday, we denounced the detainment of the CNN crew in Minneapolis and stood with them to protect all journalists’ right to report without fear or favor.”
Vittert said that he plans to return to the scene outside the White House on Saturday evening.
The incident was not the only precarious situation for journalists as they have been covering demonstrations. In Louisville on Friday evening, Kaitlin Rust, reporter for NBC affiliate WAVE 3, said that police fired pepper balls at her and her crew. The station said that Louisville police acknowledged that one of their officers appeared to have fired and would investigate. Protesters also targeted the CNN Center in Atlanta, breaking windows in the lobby and firing what appeared to be a large firecracker, captured during the network’s live coverage.
Earlier in the day, CNN’s Omar Jimenez and his crew were arrested live on air as they were covering protests in Minneapolis. They were released about an hour later, but Minnesota Governor Tim Walz apologized to them and the network.