Recai "Rocky" Iskender woke up in his Zuccotti Park tent yesterday morning to the unpleasant sensation of being kicked in the head. He scrambled out of the tent and onto the sidewalk, where he found a man with wild hair and a deranged look screaming at him. He knocked the man on his back with a left hook.
Standing there capturing the action on his camera was Kevin Fasick, a reporter for the New York Post. This was excellent timing for Fasick. The Post has covered the seedy and criminal element in Zuccotti Park almost to the exclusion of any other aspect of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The morning of the attack, an op-ed urging Mayor Bloomberg to banish the "bums" appeared on the cover of the paper under a headline that screamed "ENOUGH!" Now Fasick had found the perfect opportunity to lend some reportorial weight to the editorial board's assertion that the protests had largely been "hijacked by crazies and criminals." The attacker, Jeremy Clinch of Cleveland, played the part of violent lunatic to perfection. He seemed to be performing just for Fasick's benefit, turning and ranting directly to the camera.
After the incident, Iskender told Fasick that he suspected Clinch may have been put up to the job by someone employed by the "Bloomberg police machine," and he says he accused Fasick of misrepresenting the protests by focusing on the violence. He says that Fasick managed to calm him down by repeatedly referring to him as a "victim." But when Fasick's article and video came out Friday morning, Iskender learned that the reporter was perhaps not as sympathetic to his plight as he had seemed. The article referred to Iskender as one of two "wackos" in the confrontation, the other being the man who attacked him, and said that he was "up to the bizarre standards" set by the assailant. Iskender now suspects Fasick had coaxed Clinch into starting the fight. Fasick told this reporter he would not be giving any interviews.
There's no evidence that Post reporters have actually instigated violence, but the paper has hardly been even-handed in its coverage, and plenty of protesters have accused it of deliberately attempting to undermine the movement. Amid this atmosphere of tension, strange interactions have been cropping up. Thursday afternoon, as this reporter was interviewing Iskender about a separate series of events, a man with a voice recorder came up to him and began barraging him with questions about the assault. The man introduced himself by his first name only -– Frank –- and refused to reveal his last name or to provide any contact information to this reporter. Someone named Frank Rosario received an "additional reporting" credit on Fasick's article Friday morning.
Carolyn Questa, the executive assistant to the editor-in-chief of the New York Post, directed questions about the incident to Rubenstein Public Relations, which handles all press inquiries for the paper. A spokesperson at Rubenstein said she would reach out to the Post for comment. She later wrote in an email that she had received a comment from the Post about this reporter's "story about the paper looking to undermine Occupy Wall Street, or reporter misconduct at Zuccotti Park": "This is completely false."
As with everything else discussed in the little park between Broadway and Church Street, the question of how to deal with the Post's presence there has prompted a variety of answers. At the information desk on the eastern side of Zuccotti this morning, several protesters said they advised giving Post reporters the silent treatment. But Wes Trexler, a musician who said he can usually be found at the coaching station, took a different view. "There's always going to be a segment of people who give credence to yellow journalism," he said. "They're the followers. We're interested in changing the leaders."