March 25, 2019

US – #WeeklyAddress: March 18 – 24: US State Department bars press corps from Pompeo briefing

Below are the most notable incidents regarding threats to press freedom in the US during the week of March 18 – March 24:

US State Department bars press corps from Pompeo briefing

The State Department allowed only faith-based media to report on a March 18 press call with Pompeo, excluding the mainstream press and wire services. Ahead of Secretary Pompeo’s trip to the Middle East, the briefing call was planned to discuss international religious freedom. Only one member of the State Department’s press corps was invited to join the call, only to be uninvited after attempting to RSVP. The State Department did not release the list of press attendees or publish a transcript of the briefing as it typically would. John Kirby, former State Department spokesperson told CNN, “It's perfectly fine to ensure faith-based media have a seat at such a table. But it's PR malpractice to cut off access to the broader press corps. I wish I could say I expected more from this crowd.” For more on this incident, read RSF’s publication on the subject: “US – State Department bars press corps from Pompeo briefing.”


Chelsea Manning’s health deteriorates in jail

Government whistleblower Chelsea Manning has been subjected to solitary confinement since arriving in a Virginia jail earlier this month, according to a March 23 press release published by her support committee, “Chelsea Resists.” The committee says Manning is kept in her cell for up to 22 hours a day with limited access to other prisoners and none to books or other reading materials, which they argue constitutes solitary confinement. A jail official disputes these allegations. Manning has been detained since March 8, when a federal judge in the US District Court ordered the former US army intelligence analyst into custody for refusing to testify as part of an investigation into WikiLeaks, the website to which Manning shared information exposing the crimes and brutalities committed by the US military during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. She will remain in detention until agreeing to testify before a grand jury or until the grand jury no longer operates.


President Donald Trump continues media attacks, aide anticipates more to come

President Donald Trump continued his rhetorical attacks on the press this week, and administration aides say he and his team have plans to double-down on those attacks in light of the now-complete Mueller report into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The president tweeted the phrases “Fake News” and “Fake News Media” three times over the past week, directing his oft-used diatribes at CNN and MSNBC. In a March 19 tweet, President Trump again declared “Fake News” the “absolute Enemy of the People” and accused the media of being dishonest and corrupt. On March 18, the president claimed the “Fake News Media” have been “working overtime” to blame him for the previous week’s white supremacist terrorist attack on a mosque in New Zealand. In a press pool spray on March 20, President Trump defended his use of Twitter as his only way “to get honesty out,” and at various points, called the media “dishonest,” “fake,” and “corrupt.” Following the completion of the Mueller report, Trump aides told reporters that President Trump plans to “slam and shame the media.” On March 24, prominent Fox News anchor and long-standing Trump supporter Sean Hannity also called out specific media outlets on Twitter.

Freelance journalists aggressively harassed by magazine editor and Fox News anchor

Freelance journalists Talia Lavin and Lauren Duca, whom New York University hired as adjunct journalism faculty, received harassment and threats this week. Commentary magazine editor John Podhoretz tweeted on March 20 that Lavin and Duca teaching at NYU’s journalism school is “the best argument yet that J Schools should be neutron bombed,” a tweet he later described as “satirical” in an online apology. He has since deleted his Twitter account. The following day, Laura Ingraham of Fox News blasted New York University and Lavin during her show, “The Ingraham Angle,” calling Lavin a “little journo-terrorist.” Lavin shared a clip from Ingraham’s show on Twitter, writing: “This is insane. And irresponsible. It is incitement.” Lavin focuses her research and writing on white supremacy and far-right extremism and is set to teach “Reporting on the Far Right" at NYU’s Journalism School in the fall. “The Fox stuff actually is dangerous, and results in death threats, sometimes including my family,” Duca told The Daily Beast over the weekend.

Judge blocks ProPublica Illinois from publishing details of child welfare case

A juvenile court judge in Cook County, Illinois, has barred news organizations from releasing any information that could identify the children and families involved in a child welfare case Propublica Illinois was investigating. Patricia Martin, the judge presiding over the case, issued the rare order on March 14 and blocked media from all court proceedings. The motion came after Bruce Boyer, an attorney representing the families in the case, filed a motion in order to protect his clients’ privacy.  ProPublica’s attorney, Gabriel Fuentes, said the restraint symbolizes a “constitutional injury” to the news organization. ProPublica Illinois will attend a hearing on April 5 to argue why it should be allowed to publish.

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


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