June 11, 2018

US - #WeeklyAddress June 4-10: Justice Department seized New York Times reporter's records

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

New York Times reporter’s records seized in connection with leak investigation

The New York Times reported on June 7 that its reporter, Ali Watkins, had several years worth of phone and email records seized as part of an ongoing leak investigation into James A. Wolfe, a former Senate Intelligence Committee aide. This is the first known seizure of a reporter’s records under the Trump administration, a tactic which President Barack Obama also used during his tenure. To learn more about this incident, read RSF’s publication: “Alert: US - RSF deeply concerned by seizure of journalist's records."

Trump lashes out at CNN reporter during G7 press conference

President Donald Trump lashed out at CNN after receiving a question from one of its reporters about the United States’ current status with ally nations during a press conference at the G7 summit in Canada this weekend. Upon learning the reporter worked for the network, the president responded: “Fake News CNN. The worst. But I could tell by the question. I had no idea you were CNN. After the question, I was just curious as to who you were with. You were CNN.” He also added that the United States’ relationship with its allies was “great” and the reporter should “tell that to [their] fake friends at CNN.” Trump has consistently criticized the outlet during his time as president. Over the past two weeks, he has shared three “fake news” tweets directed at the news channel, including a June 2 tweet: “Real @FoxNews is doing great, Fake News CNN is dead!”

White House press secretary claims she is more credible than the press

In a June 4 White House press briefing, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dodged a question from Washington Post reporter Josh Dawsey about President Donald Trump dictating a “misleading” statement Donald Trump Jr. published after a pre-election meeting he attended with Russian lawyers at Trump Tower. In August 2017, Sanders had asserted the president “certainly didn’t dictate” his son’s statement, but the president’s legal team sent a letter to Mueller in January revealing the opposite was true. Many White House correspondents expressed concern about the sudden and drastic shift in stance, calling into question Sanders’ credibility. She responded by redirecting the reporter to Trump’s legal counsel, a common diversion tactic for the press secretary, and countered the press by stating: “Frankly, I think my credibility is probably higher than the media's.” This is not the first instance that Sanders has misstated fact in press briefings. The press secretary has also provided directly contradictory information about firings in the administration, and most notably denied the $130,000 payment from Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen to adult film star Stormy Daniels.

Huffington Post journalist suspended from Twitter after responding to death threats

In the days after writing a story about an Islamophobic blogger behind the Twitter account @AmyMek, Huffington Post reporter Luke O’Brien received death threats and had his name, phone number, and address posted by the account’s vindictive followers — a process known as “doxing.” Following the threats, O’Brien defended himself on Twitter with his version of the events. Twitter responded by suspending the reporter from its platform, despite not taking action to address many of the initial threats against O’Brien. The suspension has since been lifted. Online harassment of journalists is becoming increasingly common in the US. On April 2, White House correspondent Jim Acosta received threats of violence after asking President Trump about DACA during the White House Easter egg roll. A reporter for American Urban Radio Networks and CNN contributor April Ryan also says she gets death threats for asking questions about Trump and has law enforcement on speed dial for personal safety.

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.