U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Journalists and the justice system

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Published On
October 31, 2022

A snapshot of press freedom violations as documented by the Tracker so far in 2022.


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.

Capitol riots and the long tail of justice for journalists

Earlier this month, Pennsylvania man Alan William Byerly was sentenced to nearly three years in prison after pleading guilty to multiple charges during the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021. Among the charges was the assault of Associated Press photographer John Minchillo, who was pushed, shoved and dragged over a stone wall.

Like many of us, I distinctly remember what I was doing when the Capitol doors were breached. It was the last day of a long vacation. Well-earned, I felt, following a year where the Tracker team documented a record number of press freedom violations and I watched and read and edited so much pain and vitriol hurled at U.S. journalists. That Jan. 6, I tucked in for one last day of rest when my phone chirped a special alert reserved for press freedom colleagues — a very particular bat signal — and vacation was over.

In the days following, the Tracker documented 18 journalists who were assaulted while covering the J6 riots. Tens of thousands of dollars worth of media equipment was damaged, with most destruction occurring when rioters stormed a media staging area. As of now — 21 months later — the DOJ has charged 900 people with crimes from that day. For 10 of them, those charges include assaulting a journalist or damaging media equipment. Notably, Byerly is the first whose sentencing involves the assault of a journalist.

I highly recommend Tracker Reporter Kio Herrera's breakdown of crimes against the media — and accountability, where it exists — from the insurrection. (Bookmark it, too. It will be updated as the cases move through the justice system.)

REUTERS/Leah Millis

A photographer, far right, documents as rioters overtake the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. So far, 10 people have been charged for their role in the assaults of journalists or destruction of media equipment.

— REUTERS/Leah Millis

2020 was an unprecedented year for attacks on journalists in the U.S., that’s clear: The Tracker documented 630 assaults. 2021, however, was still a record year: The first of the 145 assaults on media began that day in January.

Indictment in stabbing death of journalist

On Oct. 19, a grand jury approved a murder indictment for the former city official accused in the September stabbing death of Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Jeff German. Since his arrest, Robert Telles had been held without bail on open murder charges, a general homicide allegation. The formal charge — premeditated murder with the use of a deadly weapon against a victim over the age of 60 — carried the possibility of the death penalty, but prosecutors told the court they will not pursue it. On Oct. 26, Telles pleaded not guilty.

The legal battle to protect the journalistic integrity of German’s personal electronic devices, seized from his home after his death, is heading to the Nevada Supreme Court. A district judge agreed earlier this month to the Review-Journal’s request to bar authorities from searching German’s laptop, cell phone and other electronics. On Oct. 19, the Las Vegas Police Metropolitan Department appealed that ruling. The search ban will stay in place until the state Supreme Court hears the case.

(Also Twizzlers)

For those who celebrate, my wish for you this hallowed eve is that your buckets overflow with the candy you actually like; I accept all Snickers donations. Even sweeter is a donation that supports the work of the Tracker.

Until next month.

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