El Pasoan’s presence at Capitol Hill riot underscores issues of media legitimacy

El Paso News

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EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — An El Pasoan purporting to be an independent journalist may have used an illegitimate press pass to access the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Anthony Aguero, an El Pasoan who unsuccessfully ran for Texas’ 16th Congressional District, represented himself as an accredited journalist with the International Association of Press Photographers (IAPP), a company that sells press credentialing. 

KTSM 9 News spoke with freelance photographers for The New York Times, National Geographic and Reuters, who all said they were unfamiliar with IAPP.

“The value of any kind of professional group issuing credentials — remember, it’s not a license to do just anything,”  said Al Tompkins, veteran journalist and faculty member at The Poynter Institute. 

“What those kinds of things generally do is give you a little credential, but it doesn’t get you anywhere. All it does is get you thrown out a little more slowly,” he added.

Journalists with existing press credentials — whether it be KTSM, IAPP or any other media company — must go through the Secret Service for Inauguration Day media access in order to comply with heightened security measures. It’s unclear whether Aguero has sought official credentialing.

Aguero has not responded to KTSM’s requests for comment.

“Remember, press credentials are almost always issued by a police agency or law enforcement agency,” Tompkins says. “Supplying false information to a law enforcement agency is a crime. And if you supply false information to the Secret Service, it’s a federal crime.”

The IAPP website acknowledges its “professional photographer” title is not protected by law and serves as a professional endorsement that helps a client increase “chances to enter into partnerships with news organizations.”

According to the membership page of the IAAP website, the benefits of membership are ambiguous and include:

  • “a network of experts that can quickly and efficiently answer your questions about the media industry”
  • “cooperation with other industry organizations, political bodies, journalists and the general public, we promote the further development of our industry in a goal-oriented and practical manner”
  • “a free press pass, which is recognized internationally, as well as a press pass vehicle ID”

The membership benefits states the journalism credentials are available to non-members.

A review of IAPP’s publications tab yields no photography in any publication and instead takes users to various other pages.

Tompkins tells KTSM that journalism can take three forms — analysis, straight news reporting or opinion — and that the public must educate themselves on the implicit and explicit bias of their media.

Aguero is a proclaimed “conservative journalist,” which contradicts traditional standards of journalistic neutrality. “Opinion can be skewed, depending on political ideologies,” said Tompkins. “It can be skewed according to their own experiences, so it’s important the public understand where the journalists are coming from.”

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