U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Fighting back against gag orders, threats against reporters

Go to archived editions Sign up to the Newsletter
Published On
April 29, 2022
A graph showing a snapshot of press freedom violations as documented by the Tracker so far this year.

A snapshot of press freedom violations as documented by the Tracker so far this year.

— U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Welcome back to our 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.

Standing up for reporters, press freedom

The rapid and unanimous reaction to press freedom violations this month are perhaps best exemplified by powerful statements from the newsroom lawyers involved.

On April 25, a judge barred the Denver Gazette from publishing an article by reporter Julia Cardi based on mistakenly released court documents. Gazette attorney Steven Zansberg, who immediately filed a motion to lift the gag order, told the Tracker that the prior restraint was not to be taken lightly.

“It is a big deal, there’s nothing worse,” Zansberg told us. “And that’s what the Supreme Court says about prior restraints: They are the least tolerable and most objectionable form of censorship.”

In Los Angeles, LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva indicated that Los Angeles Times reporter Alene Tchekmedyian was part of a criminal leak investigation for her reporting around the department and alleged inmate abuse cover-up during a press conference on April 26.

Times’ General Counsel Jeff Glaser published a letter of protest, warning Villaneuva that any attempt to prosecute the reporter would be “an abuse of your official position,“ and the outlet would “seek every available remedy against you, the Department, and every individual official involved in any such unlawful conduct.“

After condemnation from the outlet and press freedom advocacy groups that pointed out her protected rights as a journalist, the sheriff said it was ‘misinformation’ and the department was not pursuing criminal charges against her. Find me in the Washington Post talking about how chilling statements against journalists from those in power are pervasive in today’s society.

“They are the least tolerable and most objectionable form of censorship.”

Denver Gazette attorney Steven Zansberg on prior restraints

Also recently added to the Tracker

  • Denial of Access — Two journalists with the news arm of progressive political organization Occupy Democrats — Executive Editor Grant Stern and Reported Opinion Columnist Thomas Kennedy — were forcibly removed from a press conference with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñes in Miami, Florida, on April 12.
  • Assault — Rob Wolchek, an investigative reporter for Fox 2 News, was assaulted in Detroit on April 19 by a man he had featured negatively in a news story. Wolchek filed a police report, and the man was charged with assault and battery under a city ordinance.
  • Assault, Equipment Damage — Multiple news crews in Cleveland, Ohio, gathered to document a police standoff on April 22 and were harassed by several individuals. One man assaulted a WOIO 19 News photojournalist and attempted to grab his camera. We also documented the equipment damage of WKYC 3 Studios photojournalist Craig Roberson, who was harassed and his camera deliberately knocked to the ground, destroying the $9,000 piece of equipment. WOIO 19 News reporter Kelly Kennedy tweeted from the scene, “This is just one example of the kind of harassment we face day after day as journalists just for doing our jobs.”

We’ve documented nine assaults of journalists so far this year.

U.S. Press Freedom Tracker
— U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Exciting new redesign, functionality for the Tracker

The Tracker revealed a complete website redesign this month, with a brand-new look, real-time data visualizations and enhanced filtering and organization. With so much added to the database since our 2017 launch, I encourage you to explore this first update and stay tuned for added features in the coming months.

And this improved functionality comes at a crucial time: With more than 1500 incidents now in the database — and a team of journalists dedicated to maintaining and documenting them — expanding the framework was necessary.

What’s Ahead

Interns: We’re hiring at the Tracker — and across multiple teams at FPF — for paid internships this summer and fall. Please share the posting with the recent- or soon-to-be-graduates in your life.

World Press Freedom Day: Next Tuesday, May 3, is World Press Freedom Day. We’ll be sharing resources on social media (@uspresstracker) during this annual global celebration of press freedom.

FPF Membership Drive: On May 3, we’ll also be attending an event with famed Pentagon Papers whistleblower, First Amendment advocate and FPF co-founder Daniel Ellsberg. This exclusive chat is part of our newly launched membership drive, and one of the many ‘thank yous’ our Development team has in store. I always ask you to support the Tracker, and now there’s a way to do it and get great events and swag in return.

I’ll see you next month.

Kirstin McCudden
Managing Editor, U.S. Press Freedom Tracker