News

November 6, 2017

US — #WeeklyAddress October 30 – November 5: Virginia police defend brutal arrest of journalist covering protest

Below are the most notable incidents regarding threats to press freedom in the US during the week of October 30 – November 5:

Virginia police chief defends brutal arrest of journalist covering a parade

On Monday, October 31, Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin Roessler held a press conference defending his officers’ use of force against a journalist arrested the weekend before. News website Shareblue announced that their reporter, Mike Stark, was arrested on October 28 after filming Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie’s campaign vehicle at a parade in Annandale, Virginia. According to videos taken by eyewitnesses, police officers ordered him to cease filming the video, which Stark refused to do. The officers told Stark he would not be able to ask the candidate any questions. After a brief verbal exchange, five officers slammed Stark face-first on the ground, applied pressure, and charged him with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. During the press conference, police chief Roessler defended his officers’ actions, stating that Stark’s use of profanity is what led the officers to arrest him, citing a county ordinance. Roessler also stated that his officers had “reasonable fear” that Stark could harm them or others. Stark was released on bail and currently awaits trial. Arrests and physical assaults against journalists are currently on the rise in the US. One of the main contributing factors to this development is the White House’s hostile anti-press rhetoric.


Trump criticizes press coverage of Russia investigation coverage

On Tuesday, October 31, President Trump tweeted his thoughts on the ongoing Russia investigation, claiming that “fake news” aimed to deceive the American public.



Trump’s campaign has been implicated in Special counsel Mueller’s investigation into potential collusion with the Russian government to influence the 2016 US election. On Monday, October 30, three former Trump campaign officials were indicted on numerous charges, which included conspiracy against the United States, money laundering, and failure to register as a foreign agent. President Trump and the White House have maintained their innocence in allegations of collusion, and instead have accused former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton of collusion with Russian operatives.


Reporters denied access to Capitol Hill after protest

Journalists’ access to the US Capitol was restricted on Tuesday, October 31, in response to events regarding the media and protesters. The week prior, a protester disguised as a reporter snuck into the press pen and threw Russian flags at President Trump as he was walking to a Senate GOP policy lunch. The following week, reporters were denied access to the second floor of the Senate building where Vice President Mike Pence was attending a Senate Republicans policy lunch. Journalists were repeatedly asked to show credentials and passes, and barricaded by Capitol Police while Pence exited the room. Reporters expressed concerns that the new regulations would make it impossible for them to properly do their job covering Congress. Capitol Police claimed that they were only enforcing existing rules on access in the Capitol and that no new rules have been indicated.


Press Secretary Sanders accuses news outlets of fueling “racially charged” narrative

During the White House press briefing on Tuesday October 31, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders accused the media of creating the narrative that the White House is “racially charged and divided” following questions surrounding Chief of Staff General John Kelly’s comments on the Civil War. General Kelly made the comments during an interview the day before with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham, saying “...the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War.” This statement was widely criticized by historians and academics, who almost universally stated that the cause of the Civil War was slavery. When members of the Press Corps asked Press Secretary Sanders if the White House could acknowledge that General Kelly’s comments were historically inaccurate and offensive, she deflected, saying:


“...the media continues to want to make this and push that this is some sort of a racially charged and divided White House...and I think it is absurd and disgraceful to keep trying to make comments and take them out of context to mean something they simply don't.”


Fox News threatened with a “cease and desist” letter after reporting on executive

On Monday, October 30, Fox News host and political commentator Tucker Carlson began his show by reading a “cease and desist” letter from a lawyer representing Tony Podesta, who threatened him with legal action for a story linking the Podesta Group lobbying firm to Russian collusion. Carlson’s show, “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” had been covering events surrounding the Mueller investigation into former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Reports have emerged that the Podesta Group is one of two unidentified companies affiliated with the indictment of Manafort. Tony Podesta resigned as head of the Podesta Group on October 30, claiming media coverage of the alleged connection made it “hard” to carry on. Carlson has continued covering the investigation, despite threats from Podesta’s lawyer demanding that he stop his “false” coverage.


Country Music Association restricts topics journalists can cover during annual awards

On Thursday, November 2, the Country Music Association sent out media guidelines in the lead up to their annual award show. The move was reminiscent of the White House’s frequent attempts to control press coverage in criticizing certain topics media outlets cover. In the memo the CMA stated “It’s vital, more so this year than in year’s past due to the sensitivities at hand, that the CMA Awards be a celebration of Country Music and the artists that make this genre so great” and warned journalists that their press credentials would be revoked if they brought up issues such as gun control, politics, and the shooting in Las Vegas. These restrictions came in the wake of the recent mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, where 58 people were killed and over 500 were injured. While the CMA maintained that these restrictions were to ensure all guests are comfortable with the press, journalists worried that they would prevent them from engaging musicians in the national conversation on the recently politicized nature of country music. Following condemnation from several CMA nominees, the organization issued a statement of apology on November 3, and retracted their media guidelines.


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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