July 9, 2018

US - #WeeklyAddress July 2-July 9: New York Times reporter reassigned to new city following controversial leak

Below are the most notable incidents regarding threats to press freedom in the US during the week of July 2 - July 9:

New York Times reporter reassigned to New York following controversial leak

New York Times reporter Ali Watkins was appointed a “senior mentor” and reassigned from her Washington DC beat to one in New York following a leak incident with James A. Wolfe, a former Senate Intelligence Committee aide. In a memo released by New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet, he argued: “It is clear that the government leak investigation was an attempt to interfere with the work of journalists by an administration whose leader has called the media ‘the enemy of the people.’” The decision to give the reporter a “fresh start” was due to her controversial intimate relationship with Wolfe. “For a reporter to have an intimate relationship with someone he or she covers is unacceptable. It violates our written standards and the norms of journalism,” said Baquet.


Trump continues ‘fake news’ tirade less than a week after shooting at US newspaper

Days after the deadly shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper office, President Donald Trump—who in response to the attack claimed journalists should be able to work without fear of reprisal—resumed his anti-media rhetoric. The first tweet came on July 3, four days after the shooting, in which he stated that he avoided war with North Korea, adding: “Only the opposition party, which includes the Fake News, is complaining.” 

During a July 5 rally in Montana, President Trump attacked the “crooked press,” saying, “It's hard to believe when I say this. I hate to say it, but I'll say it. Seventy-five percent of those people are downright dishonest. They are fake.” He accused journalists of making up sources — something he frequently claims — and did so again July 7 on Twitter when he called The Washington Post “a disgrace to journalism.” He continued, “These are really bad people.”


Local Ohio newspaper receives threatening letter with unknown substance inside

A local Ohio newspaper received a threatening letter containing an unknown substance in the envelope on July 5, one week after the shooting at the Capital Gazette. The letter, which was addressed to the Circleville Herald, threatened to physically harm the newspaper staff and claimed the envelope contained fentanyl, an opioid that often comes in powder form and can be fatal in high doses. The employee immediately stopped reading the letter, dropped it, and washed their hands. Police were called to the office and gathered the letter from the scene, which was later retrieved by a HAZMAT team for laboratory testing.


Elon Musk accuses journalist of taking bribes

On June 5, Elon Musk tweeted numerous times about news organizations and journalists whose coverage of Tesla he found unsatisfactory, even calling out one reporter by name. Musk accused Business Insider journalist Linette Lopez of accepting bribes in order to discredit him, though he provided no evidence to support that claim. The accusation is in response to an article Lopez published about Tesla’s production numbers, which he claims are false. Musk also went after Reuters that same day, calling one of their articles “bogus” and saying the outlet is relentlessly negative in their coverage of him. This isn’t the first time Musk has been critical of the media. RSF recently denounced his “Pravda Project,” which plans to rate the credibility of news sources.


Charges dropped against J20 defendants, including one journalist

After a 15-month legal battle, the US Attorney’s office announced July 6 that it has dropped charges against all remaining J20 presidential inauguration protesters, including freelance photojournalist Aaron Cantú who was covering the protests that day. Cantú was charged with inciting a riot, rioting, conspiracy to riot, and five counts of destruction of property while covering the Trump inauguration protests over a year ago, and could have faced up to 75 years in prison if convicted. The journalist expressed his frustration with the slow-moving legal process on Twitter stating, “After 15 months of trauma and bullshit, all of my #J20 charges were finally dismissed.” According to the US Press Freedom Tracker, in 2017, 33 journalists were arrested while doing their jobs. (One journalist was arrested twice, making a total of 34 arrests.) Of all the arrests in 2017, 88% occurred at protests and rallies.


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.