U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Death threats and journalists' houses vandalized: 'It's not OK.'

Go to archived editions Sign up to the Newsletter
Published On
June 30, 2023
Press freedom incidents so far in 2023 as documented by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Press freedom incidents so far in 2023 as documented by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

— U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Friends of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker:

Welcome back to your monthly newsletter around press freedom violations in the United States. Find archived editions here, and get this newsletter direct in your inbox by signing up here.

The fifth time it happened, New Hampshire Public Radio producer Lauren Chooljian posted her frustration on Twitter:

“5 incidents of vandalism targeting journalists,” she tweeted. “The c-word spray-painted in red on my parents’ garage. 2 separate times. The c-word in red on @danielbarrick’s front door. And on a house I used to live in. Bricks thrown through windows. Here’s my house. It’s not okay.”

In the accompanying picture, she showed the side of her house with a shattered window pane and the words “Just the beginning!” tagged in red spray paint beneath it.

On June 15, three men were charged in connection with allegedly conspiring to harass and intimidate Chooljian and NHPR news Director Dan Barrick. The men, charged in Massachusetts where Chooljian now resides, are accused of being responsible for all five acts of vandalism.

According to our reporting, at least two other men have been arrested this year for harassing journalists — both involving death threats. In one, an Ohio man called the news station and told the news director he could see the station’s crew down the road. He asked, “Why don’t I just blow their heads off?” before hanging up and approaching them. He was charged with causing a panic.

For Chooljian and NHPR, before the federal charges were filed they told The New York Times that they didn’t know who was responsible for the attacks, but believed they were connected to a 2022 news investigation on an area business owner. The subject of the investigation — who denied any connection to the vandalism to the Times — had sued the public media outlet for defamation. The suit was dismissed in April, but a state Superior Court justice ordered Chooljian on May 30 to turn over to the court for review her full recordings and notes from six interviews from the investigation, including two with anonymous sources.

Attorneys for NHPR have since asked the court to rescind or change the scope of its order in light of the arrests on harassment charges. As of publication, the court has not responded.

With ongoing harassment, a haunting anniversary

Five years ago this month, a man who had consistently harassed newsroom staff, unhappy with their previous reporting, shot his way into the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland, killing five people in the deadliest newsroom shooting in American history. (Last month, two newsrooms were shot at; no injuries were reported.)

We took a deep look at the seven journalists killed since 2017 and where accountability stands for each of their deaths.

North Carolina journalists convicted of trespassing

During a five-day jury trial that ended on June 16, Asheville Blade reporters Matilda Bliss and Veronica Coit were convicted of trespassing, charges that stemmed from their 2021 arrests while covering a homeless encampment sweep on Christmas night. Press freedom and civil liberties groups nationwide expressed their disappointment in the verdict and the judge’s refusal to allow the jury to consider First Amendment implications in their deliberations. In other words, the jury could only consider if the journalists were in the park after it closed, not whether the late-night law enforcement sweep of a homeless encampment merited newsworthiness.

“Officers are not entitled to operate without press and public scrutiny just because it’s dark out,” said Seth Stern, director of advocacy at Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF). “The Constitution requires that journalists be given sufficient access to public land to report the news, no matter the time.” (FPF oversees the day-to-day management of the Tracker.)

The Asheville Blade told us it plans to appeal.