U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Marine Corps denies veteran and Newsweek reporter interview in apparent retaliation for prior reporting

Incident Details

REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Newsweek reporter James LaPorta was denied an interview request with Gen. Robert Neller, shown here testifying during a 2017 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

— REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
June 7, 2019

James LaPorta, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and reporter for Newsweek, was denied an interview with the Marine Corps’ top general and told on June 7, 2019, that it was because of his previous reporting.

LaPorta told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he has been attempting to get an interview with Gen. Robert Neller, the commandant of the Marine Corps, since 2016 or 2017, but his requests have been repeatedly denied. When it was announced that Neller would be retiring in July 2019, LaPorta said he again filed interview requests pushing to have an exit interview.

“I keep asking, ‘Hey, can I get this exit interview?’” LaPorta told the Tracker, “And they’ve told me, ‘He doesn’t have availability right now’ or ‘He’s traveling’ or ‘Your request right now isn’t supportable.’”

LaPorta placed a final request to interview Neller on April 1, and followed up by email on April 3. LaPorta told the Tracker that he received no response from the Marine Corps.

When he sent another email on April 22, LaPorta said that he received a response three days later telling him that the general was “flooded with interview requests” and was unavailable, but they would keep his as a standing interview request.

However, LaPorta saw that NPR published an exclusive interview with Neller on June 4. LaPorta told the Tracker he reached out to the NPR reporter to ask what he had written in his interview request and when he had filed it: the reporter told him April 24, nearly a month after LaPorta filed his request and one day before he was told Neller had no availability.

In an email shared with the Tracker, LaPorta asked Col. Riccoh Player, a public relations officer for Neller, why NPR’s request was granted while Newsweek’s was found “unsupportable.” In an emailed response, Player wrote, “Your request has been staffed, discussed, re-looked, risk-assessed and denied.”

Player’s response specifically mentioned an article published shortly after LaPorta’s interview request was filed, which cited two anonymous Pentagon sources. Player wrote to LaPorta that “this ‘un-named [sic] sources’ technique you incorporated was not helpful in making a case on your behalf.”

The email additionally cited his “Military ID Card Stunt” at Camp Lejeune, a major Marine Corps base in North Carolina. The “stunt” involved LaPorta using his military ID to access the base in February 2017 in order to speak with a source who said he did not trust the base’s public affairs office. Because LaPorta did not alert the office or receive its approval to conduct an interview, he was indefinitely barred from the base. This denial of access was documented by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

Following Neller’s retirement in July, LaPorta told the Tracker he filed multiple interview requests to speak with the new commandant, but those requests have also been denied or ignored. LaPorta told the Tracker that on July 26 he received an email from Player denying his most recent request because “[The Marine Corps] leaders have a long memory.”

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