News

February 19, 2019

US - #WeeklyAddress: February 11 - February 17: BBC cameraman attacked at Trump rally in El Paso, Texas

NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP
Below are the most notable incidents regarding threats to press freedom in the US during the week of February 11 - February 17:

BBC cameraman attacked at Trump rally in El Paso, Texas

A cameraman reporting for BBC was shoved by an attendee at President Donald Trump’s February 11 rally in El Paso, Texas. The man, who was wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, entered the press pen and shoved cameraman Rob Skeans from behind. BBC’s Washington news editor Eleanor Montague tweeted a video of the encounter that showed the man being apprehended and shouting expletives about the media as he was taken away. Montague added that President Trump had been speaking about “fake news” and the media’s misrepresentation of him prior to the assault. From his podium on stage, President Trump asked if Skeans was all right before continuing his speech. The White House Correspondents’ Association released a statement condemning the attack: “the president of the United States should make absolutely clear to his supporters that violence against reporters is unacceptable.” The White House also issued a statement condemning “all acts of violence against any individual or group of people — including members of the press.” BBC’s Washington Correspondent Gary O'Donoghue was present when Skeans was attacked and is no stranger to aggression toward journalists at these events—he said he had been spat on during a past rally. “This is a constant feature of these rallies: a goading of the crowds against the media,” O’Donoghue said on a BBC radio news program February 12. It is common for members of the press to be harassed at President Trump’s rallies. Notably, in August during a rally in Florida, supporters chanted “CNN sucks,” “go home,” and “fake news.”

  

President Trump calls CNN, Jim Acosta “fake news,” again refers to media as the enemy of the people

President Trump called CNNFake News” at a February 15 press conference held in the White House Rose Garden. The network’s Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta asked a question about what President Trump would say to critics who say he is “concocting a national emergency” to obtain funding for a US-Mexico border wall. The president responded, “Your question is a very political question. Because you have an agenda. You are CNN, fake news.” Trump preceded this by referencing some Fox News anchors, including Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson, and praising their reporting. Playboy correspondent Brian Karem asked the president to clarify his claims about violence at the US-Mexico border with statistics, to which President Trump responded by telling him repeatedly to sit down before eventually answering his question. The president then issued a February 17 tweet proclaiming “THE RIGGED AND CORRUPT MEDIA IS THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!”

  

Congressional reporters shoved, blocked from asking questions by Capitol Police

Capitol Police officers reportedly pushed and shoved journalists as they attempted  to escort Senators through the Capitol building in Washington, DC on February 14, according to a report by CQ Roll Call. Journalists and lawmakers frequently cross paths in the Senate basement, giving reporters an opportunity to ask questions. BuzzFeed News Capitol Hill reporter Paul McLeod wrote in a Twitter thread that police were circling members of Congress to box out reporters. 

He wrote that police “smashed” into NBC News reporter Leigh Ann Caldwell and another reporter, who was pregnant, said she was shoved. Senators were heading to vote on a spending package and were reportedly willingly engaging with reporters when the officers came in. “This was first time any officer put their hands on me or my coworkers in front of me, so it was really disheartening,” Matt Laslo, who has been covering Capitol Hill for 12 years, told Roll Call. In recent years, Capitol Police has restricted access to journalists and forced others to delete photos and videos taken of protestors. In a February 15 statement denouncing the incident, National Press Club President Alison Kodjak said the officers “did more harm than good when they prevented accredited reporters from doing their job.”

 

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette staffers say “intoxicated” publisher threatened them

The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh has filed an unfair labor complaint and is calling for Pittsburgh Post-Gazette publisher John Robinson “JR” Block to be barred from the newspaper’s office after an incident during which he reportedly threatened to fire multiple employees and “burn the place down.” Block entered the newsroom at around 10 p.m. on February 9 and began yelling about a poster the paper's union has hanging in the newsroom that reads "Shame on the Blocks,” a reference to the newspaper company’s refusal to cover a rise in health care costs for employees amid contract negotiations. He proceeded to yell at specific employees, complain about the costs of owning the newspaper, and told one editor the newspaper was “going to hell.” In a statement published by the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, the union that represents staff at the Post-Gazette, web editor Marianne Mizera said, “It was clear he was intoxicated.” The Guild requested Block only be allowed to return to the newsroom “pending mental health and drug and alcohol evaluations” and a weapon search. In a statement the Guild wrote it believes Block “has personal issues that must be addressed before he is allowed to return to the newsroom and be around his employees, both for our safety and his.”

 

The United States ranks 45th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index