U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

More than a dozen journalists subpoenaed so far this year

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Published On
July 29, 2022

Friends of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker: Welcome back to your monthly newsletter around press freedom violations in the United States.

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 in 2022.

— U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

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Subpoena, subpoenas, subpoenaed

So far this year, we’ve documented 15 subpoenas of journalists or media organizations.

Subpoenas Around Election 2020

  • Last month, I wrote about how the U.S. House Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has subpoenaed three journalists so far, seeking reporting materials and testimony.
  • Separate from the J6 hearings, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was subpoenaed this month by a special grand jury investigating former President Donald Trump’s possible interference in Georgia’s 2020 presidential election results. AJC Editor-in-Chief Kevin Riley said that after reviewing the materials sought by the subpoena — a recording of a conference call involving former-acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia — the outlet decided to publish the full contents on its website and provide a copy to prosecutors. “We are cautious in our approach to subpoenas related to our news gathering, because of the need to remain independent in any legal proceeding,” said Riley. “A careful review found there was nothing on the recording that would reveal a confidential source or private information.”

Subpoenas for Trial Testimony

  • In May, I wrote about how independent journalist Hanna Merzbach was served a subpoena seeking her testimony in an ongoing local criminal case. That subpoena was quashed the next day.
  • This month, a podcast host was subpoenaed for the second time for source material and to testify as the murder trial of a California university student got underway. “Your Own Backyard” host Chris Lambert was subpoenaed for everything from recordings and outtakes to documents and communications with sources following his independent examination of the 1996 murder of Kristen Smart. A judge quashed the order, citing California’s shield law.
  • Lambert was first subpoenaed for much of the same in 2021 during preliminary hearings in the case, which a California judge also quashed.
  • In Minnesota, KARE 11 News reporter Lou Raguse was subpoenaed for testimony in a murder trial after interviewing the suspect while in jail. A judge quashed the subpoena.

Subpoenas for Other Testimony

  • A St. Joseph News-Press reporter and news director were each subpoenaed after publishing on an ongoing worker’s compensation lawsuit against a regional hospital. Reporter Clayton Anderson was subpoenaed and deposed, telling the Tracker that the ordeal hasn’t changed his reporting on the lawsuit or impacted his objectivity. “I think, if anything, this has just made me more aware of how business tend to work, but I am not spooked, and it has not impacted my news judgment,” Anderson said.
  • News Director Steven Booher was also subpoenaed and deposed, telling a lawyer during his deposition that subpoenas could have a chilling effect on journalism. “It would definitely have that effect, and most likely it would affect our news judgment about stories that we do cover, and eventually it would have a detrimental effect on our business,” Booher said.
U.S. Press Freedom Tracker
— U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

What’s Ahead

This coming Tuesday, the Tracker will mark a major milestone, its 5-years-since-launch anniversary. On Aug. 2, 2017, the website went live, aiming to fill a need in the press freedom landscape: The creation of a singular, trusted source cataloging press freedom violations in the U.S.

Now in our sixth year of documentation, the Tracker is the canonical database for aggressions against journalists and media organizations in the United States. And while some things have evolved — see, for example, this year’s amazing redesign — our core purpose hasn’t changed.

I’ve been proud to be a steward of the Tracker, and look forward to serving it and its public service role in the days ahead. You can support the next five years of our work with a donation here. (And while I encourage donations early and often, journalists should follow @uspresstracker on Twitter for special membership opportunities launching next Tuesday.)

I’ll see you next month.

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