Government agents confiscate work of two D.C. college journalists

WASHINGTON, D.C. —- Two American Universitygraduate journalism students have had the federal government confiscate theirwork in separate incidents since the semester began in August.In August,Dena Gudaitis was taking notes for a class assignment outside the BritishEmbassy when a U.S. Secret Service officer confiscated her notes. According toGudaitis, the officer said that with the ”current things going on in theworld, it would probably be in [her] best interest not to takenotes.”Because the British Embassy is located near the vicepresident’s residence, security agents were stationed close by.Afew weeks later, Rick Steele was on assignment for The Eagle, AmericanUniversity’s student newspaper, when a law enforcement officer forced himto delete photos from his digital camera. Steele said he did not record the nameof the officer and could not remember which agency the officer was from, but hesaid it was either the Secret Service or the U.S. Park Police.”The general assignment was increased security in the WhiteHouse,” Steele said, so he was taking photos of officersnearby.Gudaitis, who recorded the name of the agent who took her notes,J.E. Collinsworth, was able to get an apology from the SecretService.”I spoke with the director of the [journalism] program[Wendell Cochran], and [he] made the appropriate connections to have the schoolissue a statement to the Secret Service demanding an apology and my notes bereturned,” Gudaitis said.The Secret Service returned her notes,saying the officer acted inappropriately and issued an apology.Gudaitishad to sign a formal receipt, which she said she will frame and hang on the wallbecause, ”It’s not every day that the U.S. government makes a formalapology to a journalist,” she said.Because Steele could notidentify the agency or the officer who forced him to delete his photos, he couldnot seek further action.”When it came down to it,” saidMackenzie Ryan, editor in chief of The Eagle, ”Rick couldn’tidentify if it was U.S. Park Service or Secret Service. And we couldn’tpress charges without knowing who it was.”Steele said the incidenthas renewed his resolve as a journalist.”I would definitely sayI’ve been more assertive since then,” he said. ”You come torealize the rights you have.” Gudaitis said that her experiencewith the Secret Service has had a similar effect.”I’velearned to become more assertive in the presence of authority,” she said. ”I understand that the Secret Service officers were trying to do theirjob, but I hope that they understand that I have a job to do,too.”