Alaskan reporter Tony Hopfinger shot into the spotlight in mid-October after a security guard arrested him at a political town hall meeting. Hopfinger and his wife are co-founders of the Alaska Dispatch, an online news magazine that is apparently known for its hard-hitting reporting.
The news editor was handcuffed and detained at a town hall meeting for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller.
Because the 45-minute town hall meeting was held in a public school, Central Middle School, Hopfinger considered the meeting as occurring at a public venue. "I figure I'm at a public school and they are telling me I'm trespassing," The Huffington Post reported Hopfinger said. Shortly after, he was handcuffed and held for 25 minutes, he said.
Meanwhile, Alaska Dispatch explained Oct. 17 that security guard William Fulton claimed he handcuffed Hopfinger because he wouldn't "leave a private event." Fulton claimed that he had been paying attention to Hopfinger because he had "something in his hand," which Hopfinger identified as a Flip video camera. Hopfinger responded that Fulton wasn't dressed in a uniform and didn't identify himself as a guard.
The Alaska Dispatch noted that "The meeting was open to the public. There were no names taken at the door. Reporters were not asked to apply for credentials."
Miller addressed the arrest in a statement posted on his campaign website. The statement, headlined "Liberal Blogger Loses it at Town Hall Meeting," read “While I’ve gotten used to the blog Alaska Dispatch’s assault on me and my family, I never thought that it would lead to a physical assault. It’s too bad that this blogger would take advantage of a 'Town Hall' meeting to create a publicity stunt just two weeks before the election.”
Miller's statement claimed that he had answered questions "freely" for almost an hour during the meeting but that Hopfinger "chased Miller to the exit after the event concluded in an attempt to create and then record a ‘confrontation’ with the candidate." Miller further accused Hopfinger of physically assaulting someone, and labeled him as 'irrational, angry and potentially violent."
Despite Miller's office labeling Hopfinger a blogger, he is in fact a reporter for a for-profit news website, the Huffington Post noted. Like fellow Alaskan politician Sarah Palin, Miller hasn't made it a habit to interview with local media. However, he has "opted to appear frequently on Fox News," the HuffPost reported. (Palin is a Fox News contributor.) The Star-Tribune noted that Miller said the week prior to the incident that he wouldn't answer questions from the media about his past.
As the Miami Herald reported, Anchorage Municipal Prosecutor Albert Patterson announced Oct. 19 that "no charges will be filed in the incident." The Herald noted that Hopfinger had been "placed under a private person's arrest" in the incident and that the company providing the security guards was named Drop Zone.
The Alaska Dispatch added Oct. 21 that the police report on the incident, which interviewed bystanders and security guards, didn't reveal who Hopfinger allegedly assaulted.
Miller accused Hopfinger of following him into the restroom prior to the incident. "At the beginning of this event, the blogger, he actually followed me into the restroom... This guy is kind of getting in your personal space, this is just absolutely crossing the line. But the blog that he worked for has had a history of being quite unfair in its approach to our campaign and so this kind behavior should not be taken as a surprise," Miller was quoted as saying in the Huffington Post Oct. 18.
Hopfinger's publisher, Alice Rogoff, backed Hopfinger in the incident, according to the Star-Tribune. Salon noted that Hopfinger would rather Miller answer his questions than pursue legal action.
"If you are running for office -- a six-year term -- you should probably expect that you're going to be asked some questions about your past," Hopfinger is quoted as saying to Salon. "I think local and national media need some backbone when dealing with these candidates who do not want to talk."
Anchorage Daily News reported that Hopfinger claims the guards took his video camera and when it was given back to him, his video taping of the arrest was deleted. Hopfinger reportedly decided to not have an Anchorage police officer have the crime lab determine if footage had been "destroyed," because he needed his camera for work.
StinkyJournalism has written to Hopfinger asking if he has any intention of pursuing legal action, about the video footage and if he has any comment. We will update with any response. StinkyJournalism has also written to Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and will update with any response.
Hopfinger isn't the only reporter to have recently been caught up with the law while reporting.
The Center for Public Integrity's Maggie Mulvihill was "questioned" by the police when she was attempting to get comment from Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA).
Mulvihill is reported to have made home visits if press aides don't respond to multiple requests for comment. So, she went to Brown's house and asked him questions. He "invited Mulvihill in, curtly answered a few questions, and then referred her to his press office for more information before asking her to leave," the Center for Public Integrity reported.
She stated that she spotted a car driving behind her as she left his house and pulled over. She was being followed by a police officer, who questioned her.