November 13, 2018

US - #WeeklyAddress: November 5 - November 11: White House suspends CNN reporter Jim Acosta's press pass

Below are the most notable incidents regarding threats to press freedom in the US during the week of November 5 - November 11:

White House suspends CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s press pass, launches criticism at other reporters

The White House suspended CNN correspondent Jim Acosta’s press credentials after a heated series of exchanges with President Donald Trump at a November 7 press conference. Though White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders said on Twitter that Acosta’s press pass had been suspended because he “placed his hands on” a White house aide working at the press conference while trying to keep the microphone in his hand, C-SPAN’s live coverage of the event directly contradicts this statement. At the same briefing, President Trump launched hostile criticisms at multiple other White House correspondents from NBC News, American Urban Radio Networks, and PBS Newshour. For more on this incident, see RSF’s recent press release.



President Trump threatens to revoke more press credentials, insults reporters

President Trump threatened to revoke more press credentials and insulted two black women reporters during a press event outside the White House on November 9. The president referred to American Urban Radio Networks reporter April Ryan as a “loser,” and called CNN reporter Abby Phillip’s question about the recently-appointed acting attorney general “stupid.” The president’s remarks come days after a heated November 7 press briefing, which culminated in the White House revoking CNN correspondent Jim Acosta’s press pass later that evening. During the November 9 presser, the president suggested he could pull the press credentials of other reporters before saying of Ryan: “I mean, you talk about somebody that’s a loser. She doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing.” Ryan responded to the president’s insults on CNN later that day: “Reporters are the underpinnings of this nation.” She further remarked: “Guess what? At the end of the day it was part of the American process, what our founding fathers put in place for accountability of the United States.”



Man arrested for making threatening calls to CNN headquarters

Local authorities announced on November 7 that an Arkansas man was arrested after police accused him of making threatening phone calls to CNN’s Atlanta headquarters. The suspect placed more than 40 calls, including repeated threats directed toward CNN journalist Don Lemon, between October 31 and November 2. The suspect is being held in an Arkansas jail on five felony counts of terroristic threatening, nine misdemeanor counts of harassing communications, and four misdemeanor counts of second-degree terroristic threatening. Just weeks ago, CNN’s offices in New York and Atlanta were sent three suspicious packages containing explosive devices. The network was allegedly targeted for being a critic of President Trump and his administration.



Muscogee (Creek) Nation repeals free press legislation in response to negative stories

Leaders of the legislative branch in Muscogee (Creek) Nation, a Native American tribal community in Oklahoma, repealed the reservation’s landmark Independent Press Act on November 8 and subsequently placed its independent news agency, Mvskoke Media, under the jurisdiction of one of the chief’s cabinet members. In a video published that night, tribal leaders cited “negative stories” published by Mvskoke Media and spoke of a desire for a “unified message” to the community. The Independent Press Act was implemented in 2015 to grant editorial independence to the tribe’s media division, which had previously been overseen by the government. The repeal of this law places Mvskoke Media back under the tribe’s executive branch, dissolved the agency’s editorial board, and placed staff under the direction of the Secretary of the Nation and Commerce. Out of the more than 500 tribes in the United States, only four have laws that protect press freedom.



News outlets sue Palm Beach County for banning media coverage of public ballot counting

NBCUniversal, Scripps Media, and Fox Television filed a lawsuit in Florida against Palm Beach County and election supervisor Susan Bucher on November 9 for initially banning reporters from photographing and filming the board’s public review of midterm election ballots. Reporters were also threatened with arrest after Bucher claimed they were illegally taking photos or videos of signatures on mail ballots. Reporters have denied this accusation

A judge ruled in favor of the news outlets shortly after they filed the lawsuit, allowing cameras to record inside the room where provisional ballots were being reviewed. The recount of Palm Beach County’s ballots will critically decide Florida’s high-profile midterm election races for the Senate, governor, and agriculture commissioner.



Journalists not welcome at polling stations, election watch sites

Several journalists reported being turned away at polling stations and election watch sites while attempting to cover the recent midterm election. Iowa’s Republican Congressman Steve King denied a reporter from the Des Moines Register, Iowa’s largest newspaper, press credentials to his election night event, and King’s campaign manager kicked out Huffington Post national reporter Christopher Mathias from the same event. “When I asked why,” Matthias wrote on Twitter, “he said to refer to a statement given to @DMRegister, also banned from tonight’s party: ‘We are not granting credentials to the Des Moines Register or any other leftist propaganda media outlet with no concern for reporting the truth.’” 

Campaign staff for Connecticut’s failed Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski told Kaitlyn Krasselt, a reporter from Hearst Connecticut Media Group, and her photographer that “Hearst Media is not welcome,” referring to objections to coverage, and initially barred the reporters from entering Stefanowski’s election night party. National correspondent for the Los Angeles Times Matt Pearce wrote on Twitter that a county clerk in Kansas told reporters “allowing media inside to document the Dodge City polling station would be ‘too disruptive’ and that she would be releasing government-approved photos of the polling station later.” Journalists faced similar challenges when attempting to report on ballot recounts in Palm Beach County, Florida on November 9.



Fox News host Sean Hannity calls press “fake news” at Trump rally

Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro campaigned with President Trump at a rally in Missouri on November 5, the evening before the midterm elections, and Hannity referred to attending press as “fake news.” Though Hannity had put out a statement earlier that day saying, “To be clear, I will not be on stage campaigning with the president,” each host delivered a short speech when they were called on stage by President Trump that night. During his speech, Hannity said, “By the way, all of those people in the back are fake news,” in reference to the press pen at the back of the arena, which included Fox News correspondent Kristin Fisher. The network has since rebuked the two hosts for their appearance. “Fox News does not condone any talent participating in campaign events,” said a spokesperson. “We have an extraordinary team of journalists helming our coverage tonight and we are extremely proud of their work. This was an unfortunate distraction and has been addressed.”



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.



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