U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

‘Icing out’ the press on the campaign trail

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Published On
February 1, 2024
A snapshot of press freedom aggressions across the U.S. in 2023

A snapshot of press freedom aggressions in 2023, as documented by the Tracker. At least 45 journalists were assaulted while reporting, and 11 journalists and their outlets faced a publishing gag, the highest number of prior restraints in one year.

— U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Earlier this month, as we reached the third anniversary of the Jan. 6 riots, I wrote about the journalists targeted with violence that day, the amount of news gear damaged and destroyed, and where the Department of Justice is in charging rioters with those crimes.

The Tracker documented nearly 20 journalists assaulted while documenting the Capitol riots. As of today, there have been no charges filed in 15 of those attacks.

REUTERS/Ahmed Gaber

Members of the media, some wearing gas masks with vests labeled “press,” document the chaotic events of Jan. 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

— REUTERS/Ahmed Gaber

And while we glance back at that January, we’re already turning the page on this one. Two primary elections have come and gone, and both Iowa and New Hampshire suggest we’re on the path to see a repeat of a Trump-Biden contest. At the Tracker, our focus remains on documenting attacks on journalists and on the rights of a free press. To that end, we’ve set up a candidate tracker, following how candidates for federal office — the House, Senate and the presidency, for example — are treating the press in the pursuit of the public’s votes.

Campaign events aren’t subject to the same Sunshine Laws as, say, a local water council meeting, but we believe how someone treats the press while they’re on the campaign trail is still a pretty good indicator of how they’ll treat the press when they’re in office.

Take Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Just days before suspending his Republican presidential campaign, DeSantis told a talk show host that he regretted icing out media he deemed in the beginning as unfriendly. “I came in not really doing as much media,” he said. “I should have just been blanketing. I should have gone on all the corporate shows. I should have gone on everything.”

But DeSantis’ treatment of the press as a candidate was no surprise to the Tracker. As governor, DeSantis has repeatedly denied access to reporters he deemed unfriendly, singling some out in retaliation.

DeSantis’ presidential bid may be over, but we’ll continue to watch those on the campaign trail right until Election Day.

Stolen newspapers spark conversation on sexual assault coverage

While generic in name, the “Other” category allows the Tracker team to draw attention to current events in journalism that might not fit elsewhere in the database.

Like how in southwest Colorado, the Ouray County Plaindealer reported someone had stolen nearly all of the newspapers from its boxes.

“All of our newspaper racks in Ouray and all but one rack in Ridgway were hit by a thief who stole all the newspapers,” Erin McIntyre, Plaindealer co-publisher, wrote in the outlet’s Jan. 18 email edition. “I'll leave it up to you to draw your own conclusions on which story they didn't want you to read.”

The Plaindealer’s lead story, bylined by McIntyre, gave details from an investigation into an alleged rape occurring at the home of the county’s police chief.

SCREENSHOT VIA OURAY COUNTY PLAINDEALER

More than 200 copies of the Ouray County Plaindealer were stolen after it reported on allegations of a sexual assault.

— SCREENSHOT VIA OURAY COUNTY PLAINDEALER

A Ridgway man later admitted that he stole the newspapers, saying in his apology that he did it to protect the victim, not the police chief. The man was cited on suspicion of petty theft and returned the more than 200 stolen copies to the Plaindealer. The outlet, however, had already commissioned a run of 250 additional copies from a nearby printing press and restocked the boxes.

The Plaindealer told the Tracker that it is reconsidering how the story was reported. McIntyre also told us that following the theft, residents raised over $1,000 for the outlet, and a portion of it was donated to a local sexual assault support and advocacy organization.

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