August 27, 2018

US — #WeeklyAddress: August 20 - August 26: Multiple journalists face death threats

Below are the most notable incidents regarding threats to press freedom in the US during the week of August 20 - August 26:

White House reporter April Ryan hires personal bodyguard due to threats

Veteran White House Correspondent April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks recently hired a bodyguard in the wake of growing threats to her safety, she revealed to the Hollywood Reporter in an interview published on August 21. Ryan said covering the Trump administration has effectively “put a target on my head… I’ve had death threats. I've had some people wait for me outside the White House.” In a report published by Variety in April detailing the obstacles reporters endure covering the Trump administration, Ryan revealed she frequently receives death threats “just for asking a question.” In the same report, CNN Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta stated that he receives death threats on a weekly basis.   



Journalists at AP and NYT receive intimidating calls threatening gun violence

Journalists from The New York Times and The Associated Press received messages from anonymous callers threatening them with gun violence this week. On Monday August 20, New York Times  journalist Kenneth Vogel shared a recording of a 38-second voicemail he received shortly after he made an appearance on MSNBC. “You are the enemy of the people,” the caller says, referencing a phrase commonly used by President Donald Trump. “And although the pen is mightier than the sword, the AK-47 is mightier than the pen...there’s nothing civil about a civil war.”


Associated Press reporter Amanda Lee Myers tweeted that a similar threat was made to the AP’s Los Angeles newsroom on Wednesday, August 22, when an unknown person called and said: “At some point we’re just gonna start shooting you f—ing assholes.” AP later released a statement that the incident had been reported to local authorities. These messages follow a growing trend of journalists receiving threats to their safety at the same time that President Trump is publicly ramping up anti-press rhetoric. Read RSF’s report on how American newsrooms are addressing increasing harassment and hostility

Whistleblower Reality Winner sentenced to 63 months in prison

Convicted National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Reality Winner was sentenced to 63 months in prison on Thursday, August 23, the longest prison sentence in the history of federal leak cases. Winner, who pleaded guilty on June 26 to violating the Espionage Act, is the first of two whistleblowers prosecuted under the Trump administration. Read more about Winner’s sentencing here. 

BuzzFeed News filmmaker claims she was assaulted for filming documentary at R. Kelly’s afterparty

Lyric Cabral, a documentary filmmaker for BuzzFeed News, alleges that R&B singer R. Kelly’s bodyguards grabbed her by the neck and forcibly threw her out of an August 18 after-party in St. Louis, Missouri. Cabral has since filed a police report, maintaining that security targeted her for filming a documentary on the sexual abuse that the singer has allegedly committed. Footage from Instagram shows that other attendees were also filming Kelly’s performance on their cellphones during the time of the alleged incident. In response to Cabral’s allegations, R. Kelly’s lawyer, Chauncey D. Henry, writes that “Mr. Kelly, and/or his employees or affiliates, have no distinct recollection of the events described in your letter related to an alleged altercation that involved your contraction or his removal from Da Beno Nite Club.” BuzzFeed News remains “concerned for the safety of [its] journalists,” but “will not be deterred or intimidated by these shameless tactics.”



Washington lawmaker calls journalists “dirty, godless, hateful people”

Speaking at a gun rights rally in Spokane, Washington, on August 18, Washington State Representative Matt Shea admonished journalists as “dirty, godless, hateful people." Shea is part of an eight-member task force created in response to a lawsuit brought against the Washington State Legislature by several news outlets, including The Associated Press and The Seattle Times, which claim to have been exempted from Washington’s Public Records Act after being denied several requests for records. The Act ensures public access to all records and materials from state and local agencies. Shea has been known to ignore requests for interviews from journalists and has also blocked certain reporters from viewing his social media accounts.

Facebook implements reliability rating for users reporting fake news

Facebook has developed a rating to determine how trustworthy a user may be when reporting a news article as false on their platform. In an effort to combat “fake news,” Facebook largely depends on active users to report false or abusive content and is now using this reporting system to evaluate if an individual reporting information as false is doing so for political reasons, or if it is truly disinformation. When interviewed by The Washington Post, Facebook’s product manager Tessa Lyons remarked that it was “not uncommon for people to tell us something is false simply because they disagree with the premise of a story or they’re intentionally trying to target a particular publisher.” The methodology Facebook uses to determine a reliability rating has not been disclosed due to concerns that bad actors will attempt to game the algorithm. Consequently, there is no way for users to know if they are being scored or what their scores are being used for, leading to criticism of opaque practices.


The United States ranks 45th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index after falling 2 places in the last year.



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