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The Role Journalists And Demonstrators Play In A Hostile And Polarizing Political Climate

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A man in Duluth attacked WCCO photojournalist Dymanh Chhoun on Wednesday while he was covering a Joe Biden-Kamala Harris rally outside the Duluth Airport, where a rally was being held for President Donald Trump.

Cellphone video shot by Chhoun captures the man having a heated exchange with Biden supporters, and then knocking Chhoun's cellphone out of his hand and yelling at him.

Since going viral, this video has prompted conversations about an increase in hostility surrounding political events. Al Tompkins is a journalist who teaches at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

"I wish I was surprised, but I'm not anymore. It happens so often this year," Tompkins said.

Tompkins says the vitriol in today's climate makes a journalists' job more unique than it's ever been.

"We're not there with a fear or a favor. We're there to document the story and tell it as even handedly as we can," Tompkins said. "And all sides benefit from us doing that."

The First Amendment gives both freedom to the press to cover rallies and protests, as well as freedom to the citizens to gather and speak their minds.

However, Tompkins says one of the rights that demonstrators give up when they attend these rallies is an expectation of privacy.

"The reason you're there is to be seen. You don't go into the street not to be seen," Tompkins said. "You stay home not to be seen."

Tompkins emphasizes journalists can also still do their jobs from a distance, if needed.

"That's always the balancing act that journalists are trying to do. Get as close as you can to get the most truth as you can, [but] don't make it worse by being there," Tompkins said.

Wednesday's attack rattled Chhoun, but he plans to keep covering rallies as we get closer to Election Day.

"I'm not scared of it, and I will continue to do my job and capture stories for people to watch," Chhoun said.

Republican Senate candidate Jason Lewis and the Minnesota DFL Party have publicly denounced the attack on Chhoun.

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