News

December 12, 2017

US — #WeeklyAddress December 4 –10: President calls for journalists to be fired after making mistakes

Below are the most notable incidents regarding threats to press freedom in the US during the week of December 4 – 10:

President Trump calls for reporters’ firing after making mistakes On Saturday, December 9, President Trump took to Twitter to call for the resignation of Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel after he mistakenly underestimated the size of Trump’s crowd size at a rally in Florida, despite the fact that Weigel deleted the misleading photo and tweeted an apology.



The President also called for the firing of reporters working for both CNN who had mistakenly misdated emails received by Donald Trump Jr. in a story involving contact between Wikileaks and Trump’s son. CNN issued a correction after the error was learned. Trump also said investigative journalist Brian Ross with ABC News should be fired after Ross incorrectly reported that the President, at the time he was a candidate, had told his campaign adviser Michael Flynn to contact the Russian government. ABC News later acknowledged that the story was inaccurate since Michael Flynn was only told to contact the Russian government once Trump had already won the election. ABC issued a correction and suspended Ross for four weeks, in addition to removing him from any future reporting on Trump.



Throughout his presidency, Trump has frequently chastised news outlets and specific reporters as if he had the power to terminate them or direct coverage of his own administration. In September, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called for ESPN’s Jamele Hill to be let go after she had referred to the President as a “white supremacist” in a tweet.


One in four Americans believe in censoring media coverage of government officials

The Poynter Media Trust Survey, conducted by non-partisan research firm YouGov, revealed that 25% of Americans believe government officials should have the right “to stop a news media outlet from publishing a story that government officials say is biased or inaccurate.” Presented on December 4 at the Poynter Journalism Ethics Summit, the study showed that, while there was a slight increase in the public’s trust of media outlets, that trust remains divided on partisan lines. While 74% of self-identified Democrats reported having either “a great deal” or “a fair deal” of trust in the media, only 19% of self-identified Republicans expressed similar sentiments. 60% of those polled as Trump supporters agreed with the President’s statement that the media is an “enemy of the American people,” while only 15% of non-supporters believed the same.


White House refuses to take on the record questions during press gaggle

White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley refused to answer questions from reporters unless they were off the record while on Air Force One en route to DC on Monday, December 4. After making statements regarding President Trump’s endorsement of Alabama Senate Candidate Roy Moore and a Supreme Court decision which upheld the President’s travel ban, Gidley refused to take any questions on the record from reporters and insisted that any comment he makes be considered “off the record.” An unnamed reporter challenged Gidley’s refusal, saying "You're not doing your job. Your job is literally to take questions from us. That's the whole point of this." If you don't want to do that, "you can release paper statements if you want." Gidley maintained his position, and did not answer any on the record questions from the White House Press Pool.


Journalist defends right to protect sources in court

Independent journalist Jamie Kalven appeared before a Cook County, Illinois court this week to defend his right to not reveal his sources. Kalven was subpoenaed to testify in the trial of Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, who is being charged with first-degree murder of Laquan McDonald. The defense is attempting to identify Kalven's sources for an expose he published on the murder, suggesting the police department engaged in a cover-up. Kalven's attorney argued that compelling Kalven to reveal his sources was a violation of the Illinois Reporter's Privilege Act. The judge ultimately decided to postpone his decision on whether or not to compel Kalven's testimony. While Kalven may have the law of the state of Illinois on his side, there is still no such reporters’ privilege at the federal level, despite multiple attempts by the US congress to pass a federal shield law. The lack of such protections is cause for concern at a time when United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions has repeatedly failed to agree to protect reporters and their sources in leak prosecutions led by the Department of Justice.


The United States ranks 43rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index after falling 2 places in the last year.


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