Police blockade for Hussein frustrates media

Thursday, January 28, 1999

Jordan's King H...
Jordan's King Hussein, right, bids farewell to members of the Jordanian royal family.

The Rochester, Minn., police chief has apologized to photographers who, while trying to cover this week's arrival of Jordan's King Hussein to the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, had lights pointed at their cameras by police to in an effort to spoil their pictures.

Chief Roger Peterson said some of his officers likely misunderstood that security efforts to shield the Middle Eastern leader from potential threats did not include protecting him from news coverage.

“I think there was probably inadequate communication on our part, and I certainly apologize to the news media,” Peterson said.

Founded at the turn of the century by Minnesota brothers, Charlie and Will Mayo, the clinic has developed a reputation for state-of-the-art medical care and incredible discretion for patient privacy. Among the famous patients treated or tested at Mayo have been Ronald Reagan, Barbara Bush, Johnny Cash, Arnold Palmer, Billy Graham and George Harrison.

The clinic attracts numerous international patients as well, including Hussein who underwent six months of chemotherapy in 1998 for his non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He had returned to Jordan a little more than a week ago.

“The Mayo Clinic really gets what they want from Rochester,” said Dave Pyle, Minnesota bureau chief for the Associated Press. “They are very closemouthed about any prominent people who are patients there. It's one of the selling points for someone with a lot of money.”

Hussein, 63, arrived in Rochester on Jan. 26 to seek further treatment at the Mayo Clinic. As part of security efforts, police directed photographers to a barricaded area. As Hussein approached the hospital, officers turned their cars around to shine their lights at the crowd. Officers also pointed flashlights at the cameras.

“You and your department ought to be embarrassed at allowing yourselves to be so blatantly manipulated by a foreign dignitary,” Pyle wrote to Peterson in a letter dated yesterday. “You gave him the kind of media control typical in many Third World countries run by kings, despots and totalitarian governments.”

Pyle says he understands the need for photographers to stand behind crowd-control barricades but not the need for the police to shine lights at photographers.

Peterson said that officers turned on the squad car lights to “obscure the line of sight.” He says the tactic is designed to “prevent potential threats to dignitaries, but when it's directed at the media, it's inappropriate.”

Peterson believed a few officers misinterpreted the general command to simply “obscure vision” to also mean block photographers. He says he is investigating the incident.

“We are taking every measure to make sure that doesn't happened again,” Peterson said.

Jon Losness, editor of the Rochester Post-Bulletin, says he's satisfied with Peterson's explanation and trusts that the incident will not be repeated.

Losness said: “While it's serious that our rights were infringed upon the other night, I've got the police chief's promise that this won't happen again, and that it was a mix-up not an overt plan from the highest levels of the police department to stymie our opportunity to get a picture.”

Pyle was not so forgiving.

“That's all well and fine but what they intended to do is over with,” he said. “They accomplished what they wanted to do.”