An independent New Jersey journalist was roughed up, his video camera was seized, and he was ejected from a New Brunswick conference sponsored by a number of pro-charter school organizations.
The incident involving Charles Kratovil of New Brunswick Today at last Saturday’s session of what was billed the “Fourth Annual New Jersey Parents Summit” was caught on tape. Kratovil said he was injured during the scuffle and will file criminal charges against a security guard for radio journalist April Ryan, a speaker at the conference. The tape shows Ryan assenting to the guard’s action against Kratovil shortly after she began to speak.
Another internet-based news organization– news franchise TAPInto–apparently did not consider interfering with the work of a journalist at a public event newsworthy. TAPInto reported on the speech that was interrupted by the incident involving Kratovill but did not mention the scuffle.
TAPInto has refused comment on its role (or lack of one) in the incident, apparently witnessed by its New Brunswick editor Chuck O’Donnell whose byline appears on that outlet’s account of Ryan’s speech. Ryan, the White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks (AURN), also refused comment.
Ryan, also a paid analyst for CNN, achieved considerable notoriety last year when she was criticized by President Donald Trump. According to The New York Times. Trump said:
“You talk about somebody that’s a loser; she doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing. She gets publicity, and then she gets a pay raise or a contract with, I think, CNN. But she’s very nasty. And she shouldn’t be. She shouldn’t be. You’ve got to treat the White House and the office of the presidency with respect.”
Ryan says she has had to hire security guards because of death threats that followed her run-in with Trump. She did not mention that at Saturday’s meeting when she apparently had Kratovil removed.
It’s not clear why Kratovil was singled out for attention.
The videotape–just as Kratovil’s camera was seized– shows her explaining she does not allow videotaping of her public comments because she “like(s) to have an unfettered discussion.” The website of the conference sponsor, however, carries a videotape of remarks she made at a different session of the two-day meeting.
Kratovil, who publishes New Brunswick Today, is a well-known journalist in New Brunswick. He considers his media outlets–a website, a Twitter account, a You Tube channel, and an infrequent hard-copy newspaper–to be part of journalism’s “hyper-local” movement, replacing the many defunct or stripped-down local newspapers that once served New Brunswick and the surrounding area.
Despite his proclivity for occasionally making news–he ran for mayor and often speaks at public meetings–Kratovil is a professional journalist and has won awards for his work.
The 33-year-old journalist covers a wide variety of aspects of life in the university town–personal, political, and educational. He explains he was not especially interested in the topics covered in the conference, including charter schools. He wanted to meet a White House correspondent and introduce her to his followers.
“It’s just not every day a White House correspondent comes to New Brunswick,” he says. “I wanted to get it on videotape and run it on our YouTube channel.”
He says he never intended to write a story about the conference or the conference sponsors. New Brunswick Today published only one story about charter schools in the last few years–and his outlet has not taken an editorial position on them.
Kratovil provides a service and a product needed in a city like New Brunswick. In providing that service, he should not be mistreated by anyone–especially not another journalist. No journalist should.
While much is known about Kratovil, less is known of the “Fourth Annual New Jersey Parent Summit.” The conference was organized by an entity called “Project Ready,” founded and operated by Shenell McCloud, the state “director of advocacy” for KIPP Schools, a chain of charter schools that flourished in Newark under state control during the tenure of former GOP Gov. Chris Christie.
The conference program and website suggests the meeting was aimed at parents active in urban school districts. Several pro-charter speakers were listed in the program.
Organizers said about 300 people attended the weekend conference, about 200 of whom apparently purchased tickets to the affair–or had tickets purchased for them; the rest were invited guests, including state and local politicians and US Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-10th), who introduced Ryan. Pro-charter members of the Newark school board did speak, according to the program.
The roster of sponsors included the New Jersey organizations most active in the privatization of public schools–the New Jersey Charter School Association; Better Education for Kids, Inc (B4K); JerseyCan; KIPP-NJ; iLearn Schools; Parents for Great Camden Schools; the BRICK Education Network, and others.
“It was a little odd,” says Kratovil. “Obviously, there were many people there who seemed to be involved in charter schools, including a lot of parents whose kids attend but there wasn’t actually much talk about charter schools.”
From what he says and from the descriptions on organizational websites, the point of the conference was to introduce local parent organizers to local politicians, primarily from New Jersey’s major cities.
But–none of this explains why Kratovil was so unwelcome. The journalist posted e-mail exchanges with the public relations firm hired to create media interest in the conference, Mercury Public Affairs, LLC, a political consulting firm. One of its best-known partners is Mike DuHaime, the chief strategist for Christie’s unsuccessful presidential campaign.
The Mercury publicists were happy to have Kratovil at the conference.
New Brunswick Today had published an advance article on Ryan’s appearance–an event that drew no interest from mainstream media. On Saturday, Mercury employee Will Herberich helped him set up his video camera.
“Everyone was very polite,” says Kratovil. “I was too. I made sure my camera didn’t get in anyone’s way. I had no idea something like this was going to happen.”
He had taped about 90 minutes of the conference when Payne rose to introduce Ryan and Ryan began to speak.
It immediately became clear something was wrong. Ryan and an unidentified man clearly were troubled by Kratovil’s camera. The man, later identified only as out-of-state “security” for Ryan, heads toward the camera.
The camera obviously is forcefully removed. Audio from the scene depicts the argument between the man and Kratovil.
In a series of tweets posted on his Twitter account, Kratovil recounts in detail–with photos–how someone grabbed the camera and took it out of the room, followed by Kratovil demanding the man stop what he is doing. You can see the entire thread here:
Kratovil had every right to be where he was. Ryan, who has complained about the way the Trump White House treats her, did to Kravotil what Trump tried to do to her.
Worse, really–no one physically touched Ryan, no one took away her tape recorder, no one ejected her from the White House. Trump just criticized her–and that certainly hasn’t–and won’t–hurt her career.
She’s a hero to the press. Or was.
Last April, she was awarded a “Freedom of the Press” award from the Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press.
Maybe the committee will give the same award to Kratovil next year. Ryan should nominate him. And he deserves it.
Correction: In an earlier version of this story, Mr. Kratovil’s name was misspelled several times. He will not be 34 until Wednesday. I apologize for the errors.