U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Our May 2020 Newsletter

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Published On
May 1, 2020

An overview of selected categories so far this year

— U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

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Friends of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker:

Welcome back to your monthly newsletter around press freedom violations in the United States.

As April closed, the post-pandemic reopening left to the states has begun in phases, with protests around stay-at-home orders, multiple assaults and President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed making our roundup list.

News Crew Kidnappings

The Tracker documented two separate kidnappings of journalists in April. No major injuries were reported in either case, thankfully.

A CBS46 news crew in Atlanta was covering an early-morning car crash on April 11 when, unbeknownst to the reporter in the back of the news van, a woman involved in the crash climbed into the vehicle and drove away. Both women are pregnant but neither seriously injured when the news van crashed about a mile away from the scene.

In California, which recorded the nation’s first coronavirus-related death and some of the earliest shelter-in place orders, protests around those stay-home guidelines led to at least one assault of a journalist.

According to reports from the station, a Fox 11 News photographer was held at knifepoint by a man who wanted footage of him and the protest deleted.

In both cases, the private individuals involved were charged with kidnapping.

Trump, the Media and Twitter

The evening before Easter Sunday, when the bunny at our house was furiously stuffing plastic eggs with what she could find in the cupboards (ahem), President Donald Trump reached a disturbing milestone in his Twitter war with the media.

At just after 7:30 p.m. ET on April 11, a string of quick-fire posts took the president to his 2,000th negative tweet about the media, as captured in a database maintained by Tracker Reporter Stephanie Sugars.

Illustration/Kelsey Borch

According to our analysis of more than 19,400 of Trump’s tweets, 2,000 means that he has, on average, tweeted negatively about the press more than once a day for the past 4 ½ years.

— Illustration/Kelsey Borch

That same week, the Committee to Protect Journalists — a founding partner of the Tracker — released its special report, The Trump Administration and the Media.

“Trump’s most effective ploy,” the report states, “has been to destroy the credibility of the press, dangerously undermining truth and consensus even as the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to kill tens of thousands of Americans.”

Also Documented by the Tracker

A university slaps two journalists with trespassing orders; the White House newsletter accuses an outlet of spreading propaganda; a village mayor tells a journalist he’s going to “whip his ass”, and a drone is seized by the NYPD from a photojournalist capturing mass burials of COVID-19 deaths. Find all incidents here.

All the Updates

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

  • A California blog continues to be tangled up in legal procedures when the city it covers accused it of “hacking” an official Dropbox folder last year. “The idea they are presenting — that hacking is just clicking a link — that idea would literally break the internet if broadly applied,” blog journalist Joshua Ferguson said about the accusation. The blog, Friends for Fullerton’s Future, received a prior restraint order and a judge ruled it could not publish — or destroy — information from the file sharing service. That prior restraint order was updated when another judge allowed a second prior restraint to overtake it. The blog has also received three separate subpoenas. Find the entire collection of subpoenas and prior restraints here.
  • In Nevada, a judge ruled that Sam Toll, publisher of the Storey Teller, can’t be compelled to reveal his confidential sources. The case, which began more than a year ago, has redefined the state’s shield law for journalists by widening it to include online publications.
  • A federal judge ruled that the news arm of The MacIver Institute for Public Policy, a think tank in Wisconsin, didn’t qualify as a “bona-fide” news organization and that the governor doesn’t have to include it in his media advisory list or in press briefings.

Now, a new feature on the Tracker website allows you to filter by Recently Updated so you can find All the Updates for yourself. But I’ll keep you up-to-date here, too.


A British Good-Bye

At the beginning of April, Queen Elizabeth II promised her country in her national address, “We will meet again.” As someone who owns a tea towel with the phrase “Keep Calm and Drink Champagne,” I’d like to once again bastardize the resolute British and sign off with an equally hopeful sentiment: “We will meet again, with Champagne.”


Managing Editor, USPFT