Friends of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker:
Welcome back to your monthly newsletter around press freedom violations in the United States. Get this newsletter direct in your inbox by signing up here.
Each month, this newsletter opens with a snapshot of categories from our home page. Above is where we stand today.
There’s still a large focus, of course, on the incredible amount of 2020 press freedom violations reported to the Tracker.
The 2021 violations you see — more than a dozen assaults and several detainments of journalists — stem from the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and national protests. We’re still working through a few more assaults — as well as reported harassment and tear gassing — from national Inauguration protests, even though they were ‘quieter’ than predicted.
Auld Lang Syne and an Auspicious Start
We closed out 2020 with many whimpers and perhaps too many bangs — the Tracker documented more press freedom violations in the last 6 months of the year than it had in its entire history, combined.
I came to you in this newsletter each month detailing the shocking numbers as they ticked up on a near-nightly basis.
More journalists were arrested or detained in 2020 — 120+ and counting — than the Tracker’s entire 3-year history, again, combined.
More than 420 journalists were assaulted while covering national protests around Black Lives Matter and for social justice. While we’re not done documenting, don’t let this figure escape you: More than 60 of those journalists were assaulted multiple times.
Amidst the focus on national protests, two dozen subpoenas were issued for journalistic work product or testimony — the Tracker is still working to document more than half of them.
'Murder the Media'
The turning of the calendar page didn’t bring respite; As rioters breached the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, we tracked and documented journalists assaulted and detained, piles of camera equipment damaged as it was snatched, heaped and set on fire. The words “Murder the Media” were etched into our nation’s capitol.
Not a strong start for press freedom in the U.S. in 2021, indeed.
While our backlog of documenting reported incidents is great, Tracker reporter Stephanie Sugars was able to close the books on the database, Trump’s Negative Tweets About the Press, when Twitter permanently suspended the now-former president’s social media account on Jan. 8. From the moment Donald Trump declared his candidacy in June 2015 to that Friday in January, Sugars culled more than 24,500 tweets to find, sort and analyze the thousands that denigrated the media.
The Variables Ahead
Any time the Tracker gets a break from newly reported press freedom violations, we return to the backlog of incidents from 2020 so that we can make a full accounting of what happened.
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I don’t know what the year ahead will look like. I know only that the new administration will be hard pressed to be more hostile to the media than the one before it. What that could mean for press freedom aggressions will be seen in the days ahead. I’ll see you here next month so we can talk about it again.
Managing Editor, U.S. Press Freedom Tracker