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Cameras no longer welcome at Occupy Wall Street? Attack highlights conflict

Tim Pool
Tim PoolBob Sullivan / msnbc.com

The face of Occupy Wall Street for many of those who've never made it to New York City says he’s under increasing attack from other protesters, and was assaulted recently during a march.

Tim Pool, a mini-celebrity for giving OWS the Walter Cronkite treatment through his nonstop web-based, TimCast live video stream, was involved in some kind of scuffle at around 9:30 p.m.  Sunday night -- there is, of course, video evidence. On other occasions, marchers have been seen harassing him and yelling for him to turn off his camera.  And there are ominous statements directed at him online, like this one: "I suggest you stick by his side because unfortunately he's probably going to need protection."

The conflict surrounding Pool raises myriad issues for Occupy Wall Street, as it wrestles with tension between goals of transparency to the public but secrecy to protect members from arrest and to stay one step ahead of police.

It also reveals some of the fundamental tensions facing journalists covering protests, or anyone wielding a camera in the ever-increasing world of always-on video.

For his part, Pool doesn't mince words about his predicament.

"I probably will get severely injured in these next coming months,” he said. “...I pretty much expect to wind up in the hospital. The threats I'm hearing, with words like 'protection' in them, sound awfully Mafioso."

Pool has been called a snitch who has helped police identify protesters for arrest. But he says transparency is one of the primary goals of Occupy Wall Street and he plans to keep his camera on, no matter what it reveals -- even events that might be counterproductive to the protesters' cause.

In the early days of Occupy Wall Street, when the protest was confined to and then kicked out of, Zuccotti Park, Pool was treated like a rock star. His live stream was regularly viewed by 10,000 or more Internet users, many of whom were following the movement from across the globe. He was eventually profiled by several major media outlets, including msnbc.com, in a story named “A Ustream star is born”.

But tensions began to mount during a march in November when protesters let air out of police squad car tires and Pool showed the alleged vandalism on camera, refusing to stop streaming when protesters yelled at him to turn off his equipment.

Pool straddles a delicate line between being part of the Occupy Wall Street movement and an objective observer. He said he is not actually a member, but also declined to call himself an "outside journalist." 

“I'm trying to help people understand what's happening and make a clear report," he said. "We cannot rely on the mainstream media to do that."

But he says some members expect him to show only video that helps the cause.

"That would be propaganda. ... I don't take orders," Pool said.  "I film what's happening around me. I do it because people need to know what's going on. ... In reality, anybody who throws a bottle should be accountable for their actions. They should be upset at themselves for being in the vicinity of cameras when they do it."

Pool said he's received veiled threats ever since the November incident, with critics becoming more vocal in recent days. There have even been accusations that he's getting paid by law enforcement.

On Sunday night,  one such critic shined a light directly into Pool's camera in an effort to block his stream.  Then, a scuffle ensued with another unidentified person. While Pool lost control of the camera, it never shut off.  After about 10 seconds of yelling, someone yelled, "I have Tim's phone (and camera) but I don't know where he is." Later someone shouted, "Someone just attacked Tim."  Moments later, Pool can be heard saying, "He just chopped my arm and smashed my camera. ... The dude hit me because he doesn't want me streaming."

Tim Pool
Tim PoolBob Sullivan / msnbc.com

(The incident occurs at about the 17:30 timecode on this recording)

The alleged assailant was wearing a mask, as were many protesters that night, participating in a type of march called a Black Bloc. While some alleged images of him are circulating on the Web, he has not been identified.

Pool, while shaken, was uninjured and says he would not press charges against the alleged attacker. He also said he won't stop streaming the protests, come what may. 

In another video from that night, Pool got in a shouting match with protesters who demand that he not show their faces. 

"Put your f%$#g camera away and get the f%$#g out of here. You have no respect," said one.  A more moderate voice chimes in: "Sir, this would be a lot easier if you would just put the camera down."

Pool held his ground firmly: "Information is free. ... Transparency is what brings me here. ... transparency prevails.”

Among Pool’s detractors is Occupy organizer Jason Ahmadi, who recently told “The Atlantic” that "the growing sentiment among people is that Tim, specifically, is putting people in danger and is serving as a tool for the police, whether he’s aware of it or not." Said another, Patrick Bruner:  "Many individuals don’t want to be filmed by him, including me. ... The larger issue is the ethics of filming someone without their permission."

In the rumor-laden world of Occupy Wall Street, discussions of larger issues can be challenging. One Twitter user recently wrote that Pool "just tried to help NYPD arrest an occupier." There also are claims that the man who attacked Pool was actually a law enforcement official trying to cause trouble -- "it was either that or an anarchist," Pool said.  Of course, it's always possible someone was merely trying to steal his equipment, though that seems unlikely given the context.

On Tuesday, he spent much of the afternoon trying to beat back claims that he was profiting from his efforts and had already collected nearly $100,000.

"That's just not true," Pool told msnbc.com, saying donors have given him a little more than $10,000, which he’s using to pay for streaming costs.

He also said he has no plans to change tactics.  "I do what I do. I stand by my principle in regards to spreading the truth.  I will not compromise. The people deserve the truth above all else."

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