October 29, 2018

US — #WeeklyAddress: October 22 - October 28: Explosive device sent to CNN’s New York office

Below are the most notable incidents regarding threats to press freedom in the US during the week of October 22 - October 28:

Explosive device sent to CNN’s New York office

CNN’s New York office received a suspicious package containing a pipe bomb on October 24 that was addressed to former CIA Director John Brennan. Employees were quickly evacuated from the Time Warner Center where the news outlet’s offices are located. The man responsible for sending the bombs, now identified as Cesar Sayoc, also sent 12 other packages to prominent liberal figures who have openly criticized President Trump. Sayoc, a zealous Trump supporter, has a record of attacking political figures and praising the president and conservative causes on social media. A recently released video even shows Sayoc chanting “CNN sucks” at a Trump rally in 2017. President Trump held a rally in Wisconsin the same day CNN received the device, where he criticized “acts or threats of political violence” against the press before blaming the news media for failing to “to set a civil tone and to stop the endless hostility and constant negative and oftentimes false attacks and stories.” In a tweet two days later, he disparaged “lowly rated CNN, and others” for criticizing the president “at will.” Under the Trump administration, journalists have been especially vulnerable to hostile criticism, including directly from the president, and violence.



Press Secretary Sanders criticizes CNN chief’s statement after bomb scare

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders criticized CNN chief Jeff Zucker on Twitter for denouncing the Trump administration’s response to the bomb scare at CNN’s New York office. In her response, Sanders referenced the president’s message of unity from a Wisconsin rally, which took place the same day CNN received the explosive device, before accusing Zucker of choosing “to attack and divide” instead. 

Sanders did not mention the president’s later remarks at the rally, in which he blamed the news media for the current climate of political violence and for failing “to set a civil tone.” Just last week, President Trump praised Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte for body-slamming Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs in May 2017.



Four white supremacists arrested for inciting violence against journalists and others

Four alleged members of the white supremacist Rise Above Movement (RAM) have been charged with inciting violence against journalists, counter-protesters, and a police officer in California between March and June of 2017. At a Make America Great rally in Huntington Beach, video evidence shows RAM members Tyler Laube punching a journalist three times in the face and Robert Rundo punching one protester and assaulting a second. Supporters of the group, as well as the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, openly praised these assaults online. The criminal complaint issued against Laube, Rundo, and two other members—Robert Boman and Aaron Eason—also cite four other instances in which these men violated federal conspiracy and riots statutes. According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, 45 journalists faced physical attacks in 2017.



Man shot by security guard after breaking into Fox 5 DC building

An unarmed man was shot by a security guard after breaking through the glass doors of WTTG’s Fox 5 building in Washington, DC on October 23. The suspect, now identified as George Odemns, disregarded a security guard’s order to stop after he illegally entered the building’s lobby. He was then shot and remains in stable but critical condition. Odemns had previously contacted staffers at at Fox 5 with bizarre messages and conspiracy theories, and was charged with assaulting a police officer in August. His motives for breaking into the building, however, have not been ascertained. Odemns has been charged with second-degree burglary.



Journalist Emilio Gutierrez-Soto’s asylum hearing delayed due to “lost” files

The court hearing concerning Mexican journalist Emilio Gutierrez-Soto’s request for asylum in the United States, originally scheduled for October 22, has been delayed due to the loss of court files. His asylum request was originally denied in July 2017 and then re-opened after 19 journalism organizations, including RSF, joined an appeal to presiding judge Robert Hough’s deportation order in support of the internationally respected journalist and his son. According to Gutierrez’s attorney Eduardo Beckett, the appeals court lost some of the files he had submitted for Monday’s hearing, which Judge Hough then delayed. He is expected to issue a ruling in January 2019. Gutierrez originally fled Mexico with his son Oscar in 2008 after being placed on a military kill list and targeted for exposing corruption and abuse by the Mexican military.



Foreign journalists face increasing difficulties in obtaining US visas

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) recently published an analysis on the difficulties foreign journalists face attempting to obtain visas to travel to the United States, and called on the US government to provide transparency in the visa application and appeals processes. These journalists, who have all reported in global conflict zones or traveled to certain “countries of particular concern,” have been outright denied visas on the grounds of “terrorist activities” or remain waiting indefinitely as their applications process. These obstacles and the lack of responsiveness that foreign journalists face throughout the process are of great concern to RSF and other press freedom advocates. Read more here.



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.