News

December 17, 2018

US - #WeeklyAddress: December 10 - December 16: Newsrooms across the US receive hoax bomb threats

TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP
Below are the most notable incidents regarding threats to press freedom in the US during the week of December 3 - December 9:

Newsrooms across United States receive hoax bomb threats

Multiple newspapers received emailed bomb threats on December 13, prompting some offices to evacuate and police to sweep the newsrooms. The emails, which authorities deemed to be a hoax, were also sent to government buildings, universities, apartment buildings and businesses in dozens of cities throughout the United States. The Raleigh News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, received the email on Thursday afternoon, and though the newspaper’s publisher said the threat “did not appear to be legitimate,” the entire 17-story office building that houses the paper evacuated. According to CNN, the Charlotte News & Observer also received an emailed threat. The Park Record newspaper in Park City, Utah, evacuated that same afternoon after receiving the hoax bomb threat. The emails were vague and did not mention the newspapers by name, and it is unclear if they were all connected. While CNN reporting did not disclose the name of the sender, the Raleigh News & Observer editor said the email was sent from somewhere in Russia.

 

 

Report reveals Russian company’s impersonation of US media outlets during and after 2016 presidential election

A Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russia’s endeavor to help elect President Donald Trump in 2016 found that the Internet Research Agency, a Russian company that has been behind efforts to manipulate American voters, had impersonated news outlets on social networks in an attempt to sow distrust in American media, CNN reported on December 16. The report shows 44 Twitter accounts with more than 600,000 followers posing as “US-related” media outlets, many of which were made to look like local news outlets. The researchers that compiled the report on behalf of the Senate Intelligence Committee found that the Russians consistently "attempted to erode trust in mainstream media," according to CNN. The impersonation of US media outlets is similar to the tactic the Internet Research Agency used when it set up phony websites targeting groups like “Black Lives Matter.”

 

 

Reporter sentenced to 3 months of “non-reported supervision” after October arrest

Freelance journalist Zachary Siegel was sentenced on December 14 to three months of “non-reported supervision” for breaking a court decorum order that prohibited most reporters from recording a trial. His sentencing means that in the event that he commits another crime Siegel will remain under this court’s jurisdiction, but he won’t need to regularly report to a probation officer and he is allowed to travel and leave the state. Siegel was arrested and held in contempt of court for recording part of a high-profile murder trial on October 2, a violation of the court’s decorum order that only allowed a defined media pool to record the proceedings. Siegel’s attorney filed a motion on October 30 to reconsider the criminal contempt order, arguing that because his client had never before covered a court proceeding he was unfamiliar with the media pool practices for covering trials. This motion was denied on December 14, and Siegel told the US Press Freedom Tracker the judge was adamant that he had been attempting to get a “scoop” when he recorded the trial. “If a deputy merely told me to turn off my recorder, which was in plain sight, I would’ve done it,” Siegel told the Press Freedom Tracker. “None of this needed to happen.”

 

 

Kentucky governor launches tirade against Louisville newspaper partnering with ProPublica

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin posted a video and series of tweets on December 12 attacking the Louisville Courier-Journal for participating in what will be a year-long project with ProPublica to investigate the state’s government program, a partnership that was announced earlier that day. Bevin began his tirade by calling into question the objectivity and credibility of the “dying” Courier-Journal, Kentucky’s largest newspaper, before railing against “left-wing” ProPublica and making pointed statements about its founders, alleging the media outlet is supported by “George ‘I Hate America’ Soros,” whose organization, Open Society Foundation, funds less than two percent of ProPublica’s operations. Soros, a common target of attacks that rely on anti-Semitic tropes, is just one of ProPublica’s 34,000 donors. The governor, who has clashed with reporters before, also calls the Courier-Journal a “sock puppet” for people “who hate America and undermine, day in and day out, the values that we in Kentucky actually hold dear,” and urges viewers to “just disregard the nonsense that comes out of this biased left-wing organization.” Both news organizations have responded to Bevin’s outburst, in a Courier-Journal editorial and through a series of tweets from ProPublica.

 

 

Reporters kicked off floor during closed-door Mueller hearing

More than a dozen reporters who had been staked out in the hall next to a sealed federal appeals courtroom where Special Counsel Robert Mueller appeared to be locked in a mysterious subpoena battle on December 14 were kicked off the floor, which officials at the courthouse had shut down to the public as well. The reporters, who had been anxious to catch a glimpse of attorneys for Mueller and the unknown appellant in this mystery case, relocated to other stakeout locations in the Washington courthouse, though they received few details of what occurred during oral arguments that took place in the courtroom. Politico first reported in October that a witness had dragged Mueller and his team—which is at the head of the investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russians to interfere in the 2016 presidential election—into court to battle a subpoena.

 

 

President Trump hurls insults at press on Twitter, suggests NBC could be sued

President Donald Trump tweeted throughout the weekend about the press’ allegedly “dishonest” and “unfair” news coverage, targeting NBC News by name. “Never in the history of our Country has the ‘press’ been more dishonest than it is today,” President Trump tweeted on the morning of December 15. A day later he tweeted that the “REAL scandal” is the “one sided coverage…of networks like NBC,” and suggested that this coverage should be tested for legality in court. The president also referred to Saturday Night Live in his December 16 tweet, calling it a “Democratic spin machine,” the morning after the show had aired a sketch that imagined a world without Trump as president.

 

 

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

 

 

For the latest updates, follow RSF on twitter @RSF_en.