U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Our February 2020 Newsletter

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Published On
February 3, 2020

An overview of selected categories so far this year

— U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

The Tracker’s January newsletter took a sweeping look back at the three years since the site’s 2017 launch and some of the bigger 2019 news. Find that retrospective here if it got swept up with the confetti.

With the Year of the Rat officially in session, here’s what we’ve been working on this first month of 2020:

Those in the High Offices

News media covering the historical impeachment trial of President Donald Trump has had less access than those who covered the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1998.

New restrictions on media, which include keeping reporters in penned-off areas and limiting access to senators, took effect as the trial officially got underway on Jan. 16. We captured this in our Denial of Access category.

REUTERS/Tom Brenner

Sen. Amy Klobuchar speaks to reporters in a pen during the impeachment proceedings.

— REUTERS/Tom Brenner

Trump marked three years in office on Jan. 19, just a few days after his impeachment trial began. In that third year, Trump tweeted negatively about the media 548 times — almost as many as his first two years in office combined.

The Tracker houses a live database — maintained by Reporter Stephanie Sugars — that organizes Trump’s negative rhetoric by journalist or organization targeted, phrases used (like “enemy of the people” or “corrupt media”) and other filters.

Sugars’ analysis of more than 18,000 tweets since Trump declared his first candidacy shows that the president is returning to his early playbook now that it’s an election year.


President Trump speaks with reporters before boarding Marine One last December.


The analysis of his Twitter feed is important because it remains his largest messaging platform. It’s now been more than 300 days since an official press briefing, he’s giving fewer “chopper talks” yet is tweeting at an increased rate. On Jan. 22, Trump tweeted 142 times that day, a new record for his presidency, according to Factba.se.

Another senior member of the Trump administration who used his official capacity to criticize the press was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, releasing a statement that called the media “unhinged” in its quest “to hurt President Trump and this Administration.”

The statement followed an altercation with NPR’s Mary Louis Kelly, who said Pompeo berated her after she asked him a question about Ukraine, the country at the center of Trump’s impeachment trial.

A few days later, in an apparent retaliatory measure, the State Department removed Michele Kelemen, a different NPR reporter, from her rotation in the reporter’s pool to cover Pompeo’s official international trip that included a visit to Ukraine.

Assaults on the Street

This January, the Tracker documented the first assaults of 2020 plus equipment damage totaling thousands of dollars. A San Diego, California, news crew of two and a multimedia journalist for Univision were attacked by a man who then fled the scene. The man was later found, arrested and charged with battery and damage to Univision’s video equipment.

Courtesy Claudia Buccio/@claudiabucciotv

A Univision reporter was assaulted by a California man who smashed her camera on the ground, causing thousands of dollars of damage.

— Courtesy Claudia Buccio/@claudiabucciotv

Find personal safety guides for journalists covering protests and in other danger zones from Freedom of the Press Foundation, Committee to Protect Journalists and James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, among others.

All the Updates

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

On the very last day of 2019, a Massachusetts Supreme Court judge dismissed a 2013 libel suit against a former university newspaper editor, Cady Vishniac.

The 6-year-old suit stemmed from the publication of information from a police blotter, and drew the attention of media and press freedom organizations. The Associated Press, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the New England First Amendment Coalition filed an amicus brief in support of Vishniac’s appeal, warning that if the lower court ruling were to stand, “Massachusetts journalists will no longer be able to report information contained in police blotters, a reliable and frequent source for news coverage about something that is of the utmost public importance — crime.”

Vishniac, who had since graduated and chose not to practice journalism, told the Boston Globe that, “I just don’t for the life of me understand how it got this far.”

For more about legal and other threats facing student journalists, read: For student journalists, the beats are the same but the protections are different

Managing Editor, USPFT