CNN personality fires bodyguard charged with assaulting NJ journalist
A CNN contributor known for criticizing President Trump's anti-media rhetoric has fired a bodyguard who was charged with taking a New Brunswick reporter's camera and assaulting the journalist during an event at a city hotel earlier this month.
April Ryan on Sunday broke a three-week silence by appearing on CNN's "Reliable Sources with Brian Stelter," explaining that she waited until now because she had been worried about a potential lawsuit.
Without apologizing for the incident, Ryan said that she did not order her now-former bodyguard to "do anything" and that she was unaware that her hired muscle had dragged out and injured New Brunswick Today publisher Charlie Kratovil because the physical altercation happened in the lobby of The Heldrich hotel and conference center, while she was on stage inside the hall. The confrontation was captured on video.
Ryan, who explained that she needs a bodyguard because of threats against her life, said "I assume he overreacted because he was concerned with my safety."
Ryan, a White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks and a talking head on CNN, has taken heat this month after her personal bodyguard forcibly removed a New Brunswick Today camera from the hall and then dragged Kratovil out of the lobby.
The bodyguard, 30-year-old Illinois resident Joel Morris, was charged last week with third-degree theft by unlawful taking and misdemeanor counts of harassment and assault.
Erik Wemple, a media critic for the Washington Post, called out Ryan and CNN for their silence.
"Speak now or relinquish your standings as First Amendment champions," Wemple wrote in a Thursday column.
Ryan has made a name for herself during the Trump presidency by calling out rhetoric against the media and standing up to the pushback from White House officials. She is the author of "Under Fire: Reporting from the Front Lines of the Trump White House." Her high profile has earned her backlash from supporters of President Trump (who once called her a "loser" and "very nasty").
Kratovil, who combines progressive political activism with journalism, was not threatening Ryan and has said that he was a fan of hers.
As Kratovil's camera was being carted away by Morris from inside the hall, Ryan told the crowd, “When I speak, I don’t have news covering my speech.” Kratovil's ejection from the hall also appears to have resulted in a round of applause from Ryan's audience.
On CNN on Sunday, Ryan explained that her speaking engagement contracts require that people need to ask permission before recording her speeches because she doesn't want her words being taken out of context.
"Sometimes your words are twisted [by people] who have an agenda," Ryan said. "That kind of thing can charge the atmosphere to create hate against me and death threats."
The New Jersey Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists earlier put out a statement saying that "it is never under any circumstances permissible for a person aggrieved at being photographed or videotaped to lay hands on the journalist, or attempt to take away the journalist’s equipment."
In interviews with police, organizers said that they had repeatedly told Kratovil to stop filming because Ryan would not take the stage for her keynote speech unless he did so.
Kratovil told New Jersey 101.5 that he was first approached and threatened by Morris, who had not identified himself. Kratovil said he declined to stop filming until Morris identified himself and explained why he had threatened him.
Kratovil had an invitation to cover the multi-day New Jersey Parent Summit as a journalist. A copy of the email exchange with Juan Meli, who handled the press invites, is below.
Meli's PR firm, Mercury Public Affairs, confirmed to New Jersey 101.5 that Kratovil had permission to cover the event. The email exchange, however, does not discuss the use of cameras.
Ryan on Sunday said that she would have given permission to record to any media outlet that would have asked, but none did.
Kratovil on Sunday said that he was "disappointed that she didn't apologize" and that Ryan's statements on air "did not ring true."
"I never threatened a lawsuit," Kratovil said, referring to Ryan's explanation for keeping mum for so long.
Kratovil said that he was not told beforehand that he could not record and that he had been allowed to record for several hours before Ryan, the event's headlining speaker, took the stage.
When Morris first approached him, Kratovil said he provided him with his business card.
Morris can be seen in video taken by Kratovil approaching Ryan at the podium and saying something to her before she nods his head and Morris returns to take the camera.
The NJSPJ said in their Aug. 17 statement that organizers of events need to spell out their rules ahead of time and apply them fairly to all attendees regardless of their media affiliation.
"Even in the event of a trespass (and Kratovil, a registered guest, was not a trespasser), the only proper recourse is to notify law enforcement, not resort to 'self-help,'" the SPJ said.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.