In the past week, two reporters covering President Trump’s campaign rallies have been harassed for doing their jobs. At a rally in Ocala, Florida, ABC News reporter Will Steakin was violently threatened: “ABC News...put a bullet in your head, buddy. I got one." On Sunday, outside Newport Beach, California, a man tailed a female L.A. Times reporter for several minutes — yelling, “Fake news!” and encouraging others to harass her.
What happened in Ocala and Newport Beach are not isolated incidents. National audiences have watched in shock as police arrested reporters on live television, federal agents fired rubber bullets directly at cameras, and counter-protesters mobbed members of the press — all clear attempts to prevent journalists from documenting history. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has tallied at least 856 aggressions towards journalists covering protests in 2020 alone. The majority of these incidents have been deliberate, unprovoked physical attacks on clearly identified journalists, taking place in at least 33 states throughout the country, including the cities of Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, New York City, Louisville, Detroit, Denver and Philadelphia.
“We remain alarmed by continued acts of hostility and violence towards journalists simply for doing their jobs covering protests across the United States. This aggression is representative of the broader worrying U.S. press freedom record, which continues to deteriorate in the run-up to the election. We call on candidates to take a stand against this unacceptable state of affairs and demonstrate their commitment to protecting press freedom by signing the #PressFreedomPact,” said RSF’s Director of International Campaigns Rebecca Vincent.
RSF welcomes the recent decision of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold bans on federal law enforcement from targeting journalists at Portland protests as an important step to ensure press freedom. RSF had filed a joint amicus brief in this case, arguing that the attacks on journalists by US law enforcement in recent months complicates the United States’ role as a reliable champion of press freedom abroad. However, opposition to similar measures — including California Governor Newsom’s rejection of Senate Bill 629, which would have protected journalists from arrests at demonstrations — puts journalists’ safety at risk.
The broader state of U.S. press freedom also continues to spiral downward. Local newspapers are in dire financial need, and national reporters face routine harassment from an administration that labels them “enemies of the people” and “fake news,” even as they put themselves at physical risk to do their jobs. RSF reiterates its call for public officials to not only ensure the safety of journalists covering protests, but investigate this larger pattern of First Amendment violations.
To begin to reverse these worrying trends, RSF is calling on candidates running for office in the November 3rd elections to sign the “#PressFreedomPact,” a public commitment to uphold the principles of press freedom. The pact provides a key opportunity for the nation’s political leaders to reaffirm their commitment to protecting the vital role of the free press to American democracy - and in turn, setting a more positive example abroad.
The United States is ranked 45th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.
- For more information on the #PressFreedom Pact, visit the campaign landing page on RSF’s website, or contact RSF USA communications manager Collin Boylin at cboylin(a)rsf.org or via telephone at (202) 813-9497, extension 3.