U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Indiana governor sends cease-and-desist letters to news outlets following investigative report

Incident Details


A portion of one of two cease-and-desist letters sent from Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb following the publication of an investigative report by Reveal from the Center of Investigative Reporting.

— Screenshot
November 29, 2019

On Nov. 29, four days after Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting published a lengthy investigative piece into injuries at Amazon's warehouses, the general counsel for Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb sent the news organization a cease-and-desist letter demanding the story be retracted. The Indianapolis Star, which republished the Reveal investigation in two parts, also received a cease-and-desist letter from the governor.

The Reveal investigation — which looked at injury records for 23 of Amazon's 110 fulfillment centers — alleges that Holcomb personally intervened in the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation into the death of an Amazon worker who had been crushed by a forklift. Indiana was vying for Amazon's HQ2 at the time.

In his letter to the Indianapolis Star, Joseph Heerens, general counsel for Gov. Holcomb, claims that the stories contain "serious inaccuracies and falsehoods."

"These articles seek to unjustifiably and inexcusably harm the good name and reputation of Governor Holcomb,” Heerens wrote. “But more than that, if these serious inaccuracies and falsehoods are not immediately corrected, they represent a threat to the positive business climate that has been created in our State ... That should not be allowed to happen. You must cease and desist from publishing the articles as currently written and take immediate steps to retract them."

In a separate cease-and-desist letter to Reveal, Heerens goes into further detail about his objections to the story. The news outlets later included a clarification and update to one of those objections.

The Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists issued a strongly worded open letter to Holcomb condemning his cease-and-desist letters, holding they represent a "threat to press freedom."

Signed by the chapter’s board of directors, the open letter stated that Holcomb's order is "designed to intimidate reporters and journalists looking into your administration" as well as "add to the overall climate in the nation that looks to undermine the credibility of journalists and media outlets."

"Although you might not agree with the contents or conclusions of the report in Reveal and the Indianapolis Star, an unusual call by your office for a cease-and-desist order against the media could chill efforts to report an ongoing story," the letter said. An email to Russell for additional comment was not returned as of press time.

The national branch of the Society of Professional Journalists also weighed in with a tweet, calling the cease-and-desist letters an effort to intimidate and silence the outlets:

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