I’ve heard legal theories that the city of New York has the right to impose restrictions on the time, place and manner of the exercise of free speech. This will obviously play out in a court of law. I don’t know how anyone can reasonably look at the laws and say that the wholesale shutdown of the press, not only from the ground but from the air, is in any way a legal exercise.

As New York City police cleared the Occupy Wall Street campsite in Zuccotti Park early Tuesday morning, many journalists were blocked from observing and interviewing protesters. Some called it a “media blackout” and said in interviews that they believed that the police efforts were a deliberate attempt to tamp down coverage of the operation [...]

At a news conference after the park was cleared Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg defended the police behavior, saying that the media was kept away “to prevent a situation from getting worse and to protect members of the press.”

Some members of the media said they were shoved by the police. As the police approached the park they did not distinguish between protesters and members of the press, said Lindsey Christ, a reporter for NY1, a local cable news channel. “Those 20 minutes were some of the scariest of my life,” she said.

Ms. Christ said that police officers took a New York Post reporter standing near her and “threw him in a choke-hold.”

I’ll go one better than shoves and choke holds. Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones was forcibly dragged out of the ecampment, after sneaking in to witness the proceedings. He was one of the lucky few journalists to witness the batons and pepper spray that characterized the eviction of Zuccotti Park.

Other journalists were arrested in the exercise of doing their job. And by the way, there was violence coming from the police:

The Local’s reporter, who repeatedly identified himself to the police as a journalist while on the scene, complied with the order and walked north while filming protesters, however (as seen at the 2:11 mark in the video) his progress was stopped by a group of officers blocking the sidewalk at the intersection of Broadway and John Street. One of the officers arrested him using plastic Flexi-Cuffs, even as he continued to identify himself as a journalist and called attention to press credentials hanging from his neck. (The press card had been issued for an unrelated assignment by the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit of the United Nations in September).

The Local’s reporter was put onboard a police van with eight other arrestees, including two New School undergraduates, a photographer with Agance France Presse, and city councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, all handcuffed behind their backs. Mr. Rodriguez had blood on his temple from what he said was an earlier confrontation with the police. He recalled previous demonstrations, including the occupation of a City College administration building in the early 1990s.

At least five journalists were arrested. Another, Rosie Gray for the Village Voice, when telling a cop that she was a journalist, was told, “Not tonight.”

When you hear about police state crackdowns in the developing world, you typically hear that they go to knock out the communications first, so that nobody can bear witness to the ensuing repression. Michael Bloomberg learned this lesson well.