News

February 11, 2019 - Updated on February 12, 2019

US - #WeeklyAddress: February 4 - February 10: Journalists facing harassment while reporting from southern border

ARIANA DREHSLER / AFP
Below are the most notable incidents regarding threats to press freedom in the US during the week of February 4 - February 10:

Journalists facing harassment while reporting from southern border

Journalists, lawyers and activists have faced harassment from US and Mexican authorities while working from the US-Mexico border, according to a report The Intercept published on February 8. In recent months Mexican officials have approached groups of photojournalists and photographed their passports, on one occasion admitting the photos were “for the Americans,” according to the Intercept report. Spanish journalist Daniel Ochoa de Olza and US-Canadian freelancer Kitra Cahana, both of whom had their passports photographed by Mexican authorities in recent months, were eventually barred from re-entering Mexico from the United States in January. Some journalists, including freelancer Manuel Rapalo, have been accused by border patrol of helping migrants cross into the United States. Rapalo, who has been reporting at the border for Al Jazeera, has twice been brought into secondary screenings when returning to the United States through Dulles International Airport in Washington, DC. During his most recent screening on January 18, a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer told Rapalo he was likely being stopped because of his “line of work.” Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) opened an investigation into CBP’s conduct at the border. Wyden’s statement to The Intercept read: “It would be an outrageous abuse of power for the Trump Administration and CBP to target people for searches based on their political beliefs or because they are journalists.

  

BuzzFeed journalist questioned at airport checkpoint over investigative report

BuzzFeed News’ deputy director of breaking news, David Mack, said he was aggressively questioned by a border patrol agent upon arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport on February 3. The agent repeatedly asked about a highly-discussed BuzzFeed investigation that was published in January alleging that President Donald Trump had ordered his former attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Russia -- allegations that Robert Mueller, special counsel in the Russia investigation, disputed. Mack wrote about his experience with the border agent in a Twitter thread, saying he felt compelled to respond politely for fear of angering him and potentially not being allowed into the country. 

Andrew Meehan, CBP Assistant Commissioner for Public Affairs, apologized on behalf of the agency in a statement BuzzFeed published on February 5, referencing the agent’s “inappropriate remarks,” and also called the reporter to personally apologize that same morning. Mack had just arrived in the United States from the United Kingdom, where he had traveled to renew his work visa. An RSF analysis published in October outlines the difficulties many foreign correspondents face in obtaining such visas, while a report the Committee to Protect Journalists published on the the same day found that 37 journalists were stopped for secondary screenings at US ports of entry more than 110 times between 2006 and June 2018. Thirty of those journalists reported they had been questioned about their reporting.

 

Federal judge reportedly ordered Chicago Sun-Times against publishing information

A federal judge reportedly ordered the Chicago Sun-Times not to publish the details of a court document that revealed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had secretly recorded an Illinois politician offering up his private law firm’s services to a developer, according to an incident the US Press Freedom Tracker reported on February 7. The document, which Sun-Times reporters downloaded after it was accidentally posted online to PACER, a website journalists often use to access federal court records. It revealed Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s intentions to lend his private law firm’s services to a developer interested in building a hotel in Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood. The reporters defied the judge’s order and used this information in a January 29 report. A week later, business news website Chicago Business reported in a follow-up article that the judge decided to order the newspaper not to publish likely on the grounds that “premature publicity could undermine what appears to be an extremely wide-ranging federal probe.” Chicago Business reported that it was unclear whether the judge would take further action against the Sun-Times.

  

Colorado officers reprimanded for detaining journalists

Two members of Denver’s police department will lose two days’ pay following an investigation into a July encounter during which Susan Greene, editor of The Colorado Independent, was handcuffed and placed in a patrol car. Greene said the officers disregarded her claim that she had a First Amendment right to take photos on a public sidewalk. Greene was released after ten minutes and an internal investigation was launched into the matter. Following the incident, a spokeswoman for Denver Mayor Michael Hancock told The Denver Post, “Denver is not about arresting journalists who are doing their job. That said, it will be important not to prejudge the situation until the internal investigation that is underway is completed.” Greene was one of 11 journalists arrested in 2018, according to the US Press Freedom Tracker.


Journalists at New Yorker, Daily Beast, AP say they were blackmailed by National Enquirer's parent company

Journalist Ronan Farrow, reporters from The Daily Beast, and members of The Associated Press’ (AP) investigative reporting team say they have received messages threatening blackmail from National Enquirer's parent company, American Media Inc. (AMI) in recent weeks. Not long after the Enquirer published intimate text messages exchanged by Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder hired an attorney to open an investigation to find out how the company obtained those messages and why they were published. On February 7, Bezos published a column that included an email his lawyers received from AMI’s Chief Content Officer threatening to publish illicit photos of Bezos if he didn’t stop investigating the company. Bezos’ column prompted reporters to come forward about threats they received. Farrow said in a February 7 tweet he had fielded “stop digging or we’ll ruin you” blackmail efforts from AMI when covering breaking news stories related to the National Enquirer’s relationship with President Trump. Ted Bridis, a former AP investigative reporter, responded to Farrow’s tweet, saying the AP had also been “warned explicitly by insiders that AMI had hired private investigators to dig into backgrounds of @AP journalists looking into the tabloid’s efforts on behalf of Trump.” The Daily Beast’s Editor-in-Chief Noah Shachtman echoed those sentiments on Twitter and shared an article that citing AMI’s threats.

 

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

 

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