October 23, 2017

US — #WeeklyAddress October 16 – October 22: Attorney General won’t commit to shielding journalists from prosecution

Below are the most notable incidents regarding threats to press freedom in the US during the week of October 16 – October 22:

Attorney General fails to commit to protecting journalists from prosecution

During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on October 18, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was asked by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) whether he would “commit to not putting reporters in jail for doing their jobs.” Sessions replied, “I don’t know if I can make a blanket commitment to that effect” and that his office has “not taken any aggressive action against the media at this point.” He mentioned issues of national security and stated he would utilize the Constitution to prioritize national security over journalists. Senator Klobuchar remarked that the state of protections for journalists was especially concerning due to President Trump’s remarks on revoking licenses from “fake news” media. In 2014, when facing questions about the subpoena of New York Times reporter James Risen, then Attorney General Eric Holder was stated “as long as I’m attorney general, no reporter is going to go to jail for doing his or her job.”

Almost half of American voters think the media makes up stories about Trump

A POLITICO/Morning Consult poll published on October 18 found that 46% of American voters believe the media create fake news stories about President Trump. Conducted from October 12 - 16, it asked 1,991 voters a variety of questions regarding their political leanings and socioeconomic standing. When asked “Based on what you know, do you believe the nation’s major news organizations fabricate news stories about President Trump and his administration, or not?” 46% of respondents stated that they believed news outlets fabricated stories on the Trump administration. Only 37% of respondents replied that they found news stories on the Trump administration to be factual. Trump commented on the poll with tweets insulting the media’s credibility with the American public.

Republican party official says she would’ve shot reporter body-slammed by Gianforte

Karen Marshall, vice-president of programs for Montana’s Gallatin County Republican Women, told reporters that she would have shot Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs who was body-slammed by then congressional candidate Greg Gianforte when Jacobs attempted to ask him a question on the eve of his election in May. Marshall’s remarks came during an October 19 news program on local radio Voice of Montana where she claimed Jacobs’ questioning of Gianforte was a “set-up.” Travis Hall, a spokesperson for Gianforte, told reporters that “Greg disagrees with those remarks, repudiates them and remains focused on being a strong voice for Montana in Washington.”

Media rebuked for coverage of Trump’s handling of US soldier’s death

There has been controversy throughout the past week over the White House’s handling of the deaths of four US soldiers, specifically Sgt. La David Johnson, in Niger. Congresswoman Wilson (D-FL), a representative from Johnson’s home state, publicized that she overheard President Trump’s call to Johnson’s wife. Trump reportedly told Mrs. Johnson that her husband “knew what he signed up for, but I guess it still hurt.” In response, the President repeatedly attacked Congresswoman Wilson and the media on Twitter starting on October 19 and continuing throughout the weekend, claiming she and news outlets had intentionally spread a fake story.

During a White House press briefing that same day, Chief of Staff and former General John Kelly attempted to defend the President’s handling of the call. While doing so, he made an incorrect statement on the contents of a speech Congresswoman Wilson had made at an FBI dedication ceremony in 2015. The next day, when questioned by reporters on the veracity of his statements, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated: “if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that's something highly inappropriate.” Her statements led to push back from notable Republican lawmakers, most notably Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC). When asked about whether it was inappropriate to debate a four-star general, Graham replied “No, not in America.” There was considerable pushback from multiple journalists as well.

The United States ranks 43rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index after falling 2 places in the last year.

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