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Department of Denials | Our October 2019 Newsletter

October 1, 2019

Friends of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker:

Welcome back to your monthly newsletter around press freedom violations in the United States.

Overview
At the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, we’ve documented more than 100 separate incidents of press freedom violations in the United States so far this year. We’ve also made nearly 30 updates to previously published incidents, which span back to 2017 when this project launched. Below are a few recent highlights; follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more news.

Denied Access by DHS

Two high-profile incidents this month involve the Department of Homeland Security, and both inexplicably also involve the news organization BuzzFeed.

On Sept. 11, BuzzFeed reporter Adolfo Flores tweeted that he was blocked from entering the Migrant Protection Protocols hearings in Laredo, Texas. In seeming contradiction to established practices, a DHS officer told Flores that the newly erected court tents were not open to the public.

Journalists need access to these hearings, Flores told the Tracker, to cover how the “Remain in Mexico” policy is affecting migrants. We marked this case as a Denial of Access for all media.

In a more personal exclusion, CNN’s Reliable Sources newsletter reported on a letter from a BuzzFeed editor to DHS spokesperson Andrew Meehan. News Director Tom Namako wrote to protest the treatment of BuzzFeed immigration reporter Hamed Aleaziz, who was disinvited from a media tour of the U.S. Mexico border. Namako referred to the reversal as “perplexing and disappointing.”

Denied Access by DOD

When the Department of Defense attempted to force journalists to sign new press rules in order to cover hearings at the U.S. Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a media coalition swiftly responded.

The New York Times’ Deputy General Counsel, David McCraw, wrote to the Pentagon on behalf of media organizations — including The Times, the Associated Press, NPR and First Look Media — that the attempted control “has no apparent security justification” and the regulations “interferes with the First Amendment rights of the news media.”

The Defense Department formally rescinded the regulations on Sept. 6.

McCraw told us that he was glad the Department of Defense took seriously the concerns voiced in his letter. “Guantanamo remains a vital story, and reporters need the freedom to report fully on the proceedings there,” McCraw said.

Denied Access on a Local Level

In late August, all media was also barred from a public lead water crisis meeting in Newark, New Jersey, by the mayor’s communication team.

Media attorney and Rutgers law professor Bruce Rosen told local news outlet NJTV that the decision to exclude the press was unconstitutional: “Constitutionally, it’s a public forum. He invited the public and the media is part of the public. In fact, the media is a representative of the public.”

We’re tracking these cases in our Denial of Access category.

So far in 2019, at least 28 journalists or news organizations have been denied access to government events.

All the Updates

In addition to reporting press freedom violations as they happen, we continuously update our database as incidents evolve.

Last summer, Colorado Independent editor Susan Greene was handcuffed and detained after photographing a police interaction. This September, the Denver Police Department agreed to pay $50,000 and participate in First Amendment training for its officers as part of a settlement.

Denver police officers handcuff Susan Greene

The Independent reported that Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, will be hired to lead the trainings. Osterreicher told the Tracker that he hopes this will help avoid similar incidents in the future.

Some other recent updates of note:

  • A federal judge ruled that the White House must restore the hard pass of Brian Karem, Playboy columnist and CNN political analyst. "It's good for me, but it's great for the free press,” Karem told CNN.
  • A judge ended a $100 million defamation lawsuit from a former Trump adviser, Jason Miller, against Splinter news site, its parent company Gizmodo Media Group (now G/O Media), and its managing editor Katherine Krueger. The suit had included a subpoena for reporting materials.

We tracked these updates across multiple categories: Arrest/Criminal Charge; Denial of Access and Subpoena/Legal Order.

So far in 2019, at least eight journalists have been arrested in the course of their work; 28 journalists or news organizations have been denied access to government events; and 13 subpoena or legal orders have been issued against journalists or news organizations.

Looking Ahead | Special Election Section

As the candidates keep their eyes on poll numbers heading toward the November 2020 elections, so, too, will we be keeping an eye on press freedom violations from federal candidates and their teams. Those stories will be collected as an ongoing blog post — which can be found on our Tracker home page — and I’ll update you here in this monthly newsletter as well. This specialized year-long tracking launches Nov. 3, 2019.

Support this project and all that we do when you support the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. A donation to Freedom of the Press Foundation makes this possible.

Best,

Kirstin
Managing Editor, USPFT