U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

DHS press secretary asks journalist to stop reporting on him

Incident Details

Ken Klippenstein tweet
June 20, 2018

On June 20, 2018, Ken Klippenstein — an investigative reporter who contributes to The Daily Beast and The Young Turks — tweeted that he had received an unsolicited call from Tyler Houlton, the press secretary for the Department of Homeland Security. Klippenstein said that Houlton asked him about his sources and also asked him not to solicit tips about Houlton on Twitter.

On the afternoon of June 20, Klippenstein tweeted that he had heard troubling allegations about Houlton, and requested that anyone contact him with information. (Though Klippenstein originally identified Houlton as a spokesman for Immigration & Customs Enforcement, he later clarified that Houlton is the spokesman for all of DHS, not just ICE.)

About an hour later, Klippenstein tweeted that Houlton had called him.

Klippenstein told the Freedom of the Press Foundation that he received a call from a Washington, D.C. phone number that he did not recognize. The caller identified himself as Houlton and then told Klippenstein that if Klippenstein “had something” on him, then Klippenstein should call him rather than asking for tips on Twitter.

According to Klippenstein, he told Houlton that he was a reporter and seeking tips is what reporters do. Houlton then asked who was telling him information about Houlton, and he told Houlton that he cannot reveal his sources.

“When you get a call like that… papers need certain relationships with administrators to get information,” Klippenstein said, adding that his job and lack of dependents allows him to take more professional risks than other journalists. “A lot of reporters would understandably be afraid of upsetting their boss, and I think it would have a chilling effect on reporting. This has concrete effects. It’s not just an unpleasant interaction.”

Klippenstein said that he could not think of any situation in which he would reveal the identity of a confidential source.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “I would go to jail before that. This is who I am. It would be betraying what I dedicated myself to.”

Houlton did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].