News

July 1, 2019

US – #WeeklyAddress: June 24 – June 30: Supreme Court ruling to limit reporters’ access to federal documents

SAUL LOEB / AFP
Below are the most notable incidents regarding threats to press freedom in the US during the week of June 24 – June 30:

Supreme Court ruling to limit reporters’ access to federal documents

In a 6-3 decision on June 24, the US Supreme Court ruled to restrict reporters’ access to government documents by broadening the definition of “confidential” materials that are exempt from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The change in definition, which now includes all information “intended to be secret” comes at the expense of investigative reporters, who already struggle to secure the documents essential to their public service watchdog reporting. The previous definition of “confidential” documents, which included only documents that would cause “substantial harm” if publicized, has been in effect since a 1974 appellate court ruling. The June 24 decision is the conclusion of a 2011 case in which a South Dakota newspaper submitted a FOIA request to the Department of Agriculture, requesting the annual amounts taxpayers paid to more than 300,000 retailers participating in its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Now, government agencies and businesses who rely on government funding have the power to define what is and isn’t confidential.

 

President Trump cracks anti-journalist jokes at G20 summit

While meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the international Group of 20 (G20) forum in Japan on June 28, President Donald Trump joked that he should “get rid” of journalists. “Fake news is a great term, isn’t it? You don’t have this in Russia, but we do,” Trump quipped at the beginning of the meeting. Putin replied, “We also have. It’s the same.” Russia is ranked 149th out of 180 countries on RSF’s World Press Freedom Index and dozens of reporters have been murdered in the nation since Putin took office. That same day President Trump also had breakfast with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman but declined to address US Central Intelligence Agency allegations that the Crown Prince may have ordered the murder of Saudi dissident and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. News organizations and government officials alike have expressed concern about President Trump’s incendiary anti-press comments and amicable relationship with leaders whose governments are particularly intolerant toward journalists. "If the President’s instincts were allowed to prevail, he’d have a similar system for oppressing the media… as Putin enjoys in Russia," said former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper of President Trump’s most recent comments.

  

Far-right blogger attacked during Portland, Oregon, demonstrations

Far-right blogger Andy Ngo was taken to the hospital on June 29 after anti-fascist protesters assaulted him at a demonstration countering the presence of the Proud Boys, a neo-fascist organization, in Portland, Oregon. Video shows Ngo walking and recording amidst a group of counter-protesters when several individuals in black masks begin shoving, spraying him with what appears to be silly string, and throwing milkshakes and eggs at him. Ngo later posted photos of his face, bruised and bloodied, from an emergency room. Prior to the protest, a local anti-fascist (or, “antifa”) organization that had organized one of the counter-demonstrations posted a blog post calling for people to “defend our city” and citing Ngo by name as being Islamophobic and promoting the Proud Boys. These accusations may in part root from a 2018 Wall Street Journal op-ed written by Ngo, who is also an editor for the online magazine Quilette, titled “A Visit to Islamic London,” after which many accused him of being Islamophobic. He also has a history of clashing with anti-fascist protesters, including in his Twitter bio that he is “hated by antifa.” For more information, read “US: Far-right blogger attacked during Portland anti-fascist rally.”

 

Major League Baseball beat reporter threatened, thrown out of locker room

After the New York Mets lost to the Chicago Cubs June 23, Newsday baseball beat reporter Tim Healey was physically threatened by a Mets player and kicked out of the locker room by the team manager. Healey said the confrontation started when he told Mets manager Mickey Callaway goodbye for the night, to which Callaway responded, “Don’t be a smart-ass” and told Healey to leave the locker room. Pitcher Jason Vargas then threatened to “knock out” Healey and approached him in an intimidating manner. Healey was able to leave without confrontation, thanks to several Mets players who inserted themselves between the men.

  

Detention crises shed light on reporter obstruction

A June 21 Associated Press article that described detained migrant children living in devastating conditions at a Clint, Texas, detention center has shed new light on reporters’ lack of access to such facilities along the United States’ southern border. Journalists Cedar Attanasio, Garance Burke and Martha Mendoza were only able to write the article, which exposed a detention center packed to nearly quadruple capacity, by collecting secondhand accounts of the facilities from lawyers and doctors who were granted access. Journalists and media outlets have been pushing back against the Trump administration’s restrictions on access to detention centers for more than a year, with the issue gaining national attention in June 2018 after Time magazine published a photograph of a Honduran toddler crying as her mother was searched by a US border patrol agent. More recently, the press has seen a significant crackdown on access since two children died in Customs and Border Protection custody in December, leaving the public largely in the dark about the centers’ inner workings, said New York Times journalist Caitlin Dickerson. With the exception of government-provided materials, which some news outlets refuse to use because they were not gathered independently, very few videos or images of life within the detention centers are available.

  

New White House press secretary has a troubled past with press

The White House announced on June 25 that Stephanie Grisham, currently press secretary to First Lady Melania Trump, will fill Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ post as President Trump’s press secretary and communications director. Grisham, who has been with the Trump administration since 2015, has a thorny past of obstructing and criticizing the press. As press secretary for the Republican majority in the Arizona House of Representatives, she allegedly targeted and retaliated against journalist Hank Stephenson by imposing ultra-specific background checks on reporters covering the state legislature after Stephenson wrote a story that revealed the House Speaker had used state-owned vehicles while running for Congress. Grisham also opposed public records requests in office, often creating roadblocks to information access, according to First Amendment lawyer David Bodney, who worked with Grisham in Arizona on behalf of media clients. Just last December, Grisham penned a scathing op-ed attacking CNN for criticizing the first lady’s comportment. In sum, “If we’re looking for someone who will create roadblocks to public information and confront the press needlessly, she’s an excellent candidate,” Bodney said.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…

 

New York Post pulls story on Trump sexual assault

The New York Post deleted an article detailing columnist E. Jean Carroll’s rape allegations against President Trump from its website Friday, as well as a related Associated Press wire article previously published on its website. The paper scrubbed the article Friday at the behest of Post advisor Col Allen, former editor-in-chief of the paper and outspoken Trump supporter, CNN reported Tuesday. Carroll’s allegations are the 22nd in a long line of women accusing the president of sexual misconduct.