U.S. Press Freedom Tracker
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Politics and the press

November 5, 2023

Tracking how the media is treated on the road to Election 2024

This is a specialized tracking project by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker to collect and catalog reports of press freedom aggressions by candidates and their teams running in federal elections.

We believe that candidates’ treatment of journalists while running for office gives us insight into how they may behave when they become elected officials — and that this blog may serve as one measure to hold them accountable. From Nov. 5, until Election Day 2024, we'll update this searchable blog with relevant incidents from across the U.S., topped off with the most recent reports.

If a journalist is denied access or removed from a federal campaign event, we’ll review the facts of the incident to determine if it gives rise to First Amendment concerns.

Among the factors we consider in our inquiries are whether or not a candidate had Secret Service protection, if their campaign is publicly funded, and who was involved with the decision to remove working press from an event or otherwise deny access.

April 6, 2024 | Reporter removed from Colorado GOP assembly for ‘unfair’ reporting

Jan. 21, 2024 | NBC News pool reporter barred from Trump campaign event

Jan. 16, 2024 | Trump attacks CNN, MSNBC for not airing full Iowa caucus victory speech

Jan. 5, 2024 | NY congressman backs off monthslong town hall media ban

Jan. 2, 2024 | Trump team reverses denial of press credentials for rally

Dec. 13, 2023 | Trump campaign denies student reporters credentials for Iowa event

Nov. 28, 2023 | Trump calls on government to ‘come down hard’ on MSNBC

Nov. 8, 2023 | Presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy targets news media in debate

April 6, 2024 | Reporter removed from Colorado GOP assembly for ‘unfair’ reporting

A reporter for online news outlet The Colorado Sun was escorted by law enforcement from an assembly of the Colorado Republican Party on April 6 for allegedly unfavorable coverage.

Sandra Fish has covered Colorado politics since 1982 and attended conventions of both major parties. But according to an account in The Colorado Sun, during the early hours of April 6, she received a text message from party representative Eric Grossman that said the assembly in Pueblo, Colorado, was not an “open press event” and that she would not be added to the latest list of credentialed journalists given access.

Grossman added that the party chairman, Dave Williams, found her “current reporting to be very unfair.”

Nevertheless, when Fish later arrived at the venue, she was granted entry and provided press credentials, which she displayed on a lanyard. Then, in an encounter captured on video by other journalists at the event, Fish was confronted by a sheriff’s deputy and a member of the event staff.

“You have to be invited here. They don’t want you here. We have to get you out of here,” the deputy is heard saying in a video of the incident recorded by Pueblo Chieftain politics reporter Anna Lynn Winfrey.

Winfrey’s video also captures the same event staff member asking for Winfrey’s credentials, then confiscating Fish’s press lanyard. Fish was then led out of the venue.

In a text to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, party chairman Williams said he makes “no apologies for kicking out a fake journalist.” He added that Fish “actually snuck into our event.”

Colorado Sun Editor Larry Ryckman said in an interview with the Tracker that, as of April 8, Fish had received no further contact from the Colorado GOP regarding her ejection from the assembly.

“Sandra Fish is an experienced, respected journalist who’s covered countless state assemblies for the Republicans, as well as the Democrats,” Ryckman said. “She's a fair and impartial journalist whose work has been vouched for by Republicans and Democrats.”

Meanwhile, Fish’s ejection from the event drew rebukes by elected officials from both of Colorado’s major political parties on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer called it “disgusting,” and wrote, “As a Republican I’m embarrassed by the GOP chair.”

Rep. Matt Soper, also a Republican, wrote, “A healthy and transparent republic means you allow the public and media to observe the process of selecting candidates to represent our state in public office.”

Democratic state Sen. Nick Hinrichsen said it was an “egregious abuse of power and violation of trust.”

The Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition also condemned the removal, writing on X that it “undermines the vital role of the free press and directly impacts thousands of Coloradans who rely on The Sun for coverage.”

The Colorado Pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists spoke out as well, stating, “The action represents a hostile disregard for the fundamental standards of transparency, accountability and press freedom.”

Former President Donald Trump, however, defended Williams’ action, writing in a post on Truth Social that the state GOP chair “is under Fake News assault because he is doing such a strong job as an advocate for MAGA.”

But Fish, in an interview with The Washington Post, maintained that while political parties may be private organizations, they are doing public business by nominating candidates on the party’s behalf. She added that she would continue to cover such political events, saying, “I’m just going to show up.”

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Jan. 21, 2024 | NBC News pool reporter barred from Trump campaign event

Donald Trump’s campaign told an NBC News correspondent working as a pool reporter for five major networks that he could not attend a rally in New Hampshire but provided no justification for the prohibition, two days before the Jan. 23 primary in that state.

In an email to the rest of the campaign network pool that was obtained by The New York Times, NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard, who regularly covers the Trump campaign, said the campaign objected to his attending a Jan. 21 rally in New Hampshire.

“Your pooler was told that if he was the designated pooler by NBC News that the pool would be cut off for the day,” Hillyard wrote. “After affirming to the campaign that your pooler would attend the events, NBC News was informed at about 2:20 p.m. that the pool would not be allowed to travel with Trump today.”

The network pool also includes ABC, CBS, CNN and Fox News. The Times reported that Hillyard was able to attend another Trump event later on Jan. 21.

Steven Cheung, a spokesman for the Trump campaign, told The Times that it does not “bar reporters based on their reporting” and holds some events without a network pool. Cheung did not respond to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker’s request for comment.

Trump has a long history of clashing with high-profile members of the press and Hillyard is no exception.

Vanity Fair reported that, during a March 2023 press gaggle held aboard Trump’s plane following a campaign event, Trump became agitated with Hillyard when the reporter began questioning him about Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s criminal investigation into the former president.

Trump grabbed Hillyard’s two phones from him and threw them, according to Vanity Fair.

“Get him out of here,” Trump was heard telling his aides in audio of the incident obtained by the magazine.

In a separate incident on Jan. 19, Hillyard got into a heated exchange with New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, who some speculate is being considered as a running mate for Trump, at a Trump campaign event when Hillyard asked questions relating to E. Jean Carroll’s defamation case against the former president.

CNN’s Kate Sullivan posted video of the exchange on X, formerly known as Twitter:

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Jan. 16, 2024 | Trump attacks CNN, MSNBC for not airing full Iowa caucus victory speech

Donald Trump claimed during a campaign rally that CNN and MSNBC “refused” to televise his Jan. 15 victory speech after the Iowa Republican caucuses, and said the networks should be taken off the air.

“NBC and CNN refused to air my victory speech, think of it, because they are crooked, they’re dishonest and, frankly, they should have their licenses or whatever they have taken away,” Trump said at a Jan. 16 campaign event in Atkinson, New Hampshire, which was broadcast by C-SPAN.

CNN televised about nine minutes of Trump’s 22-minute speech, according to the Daily Beast. The network then cut away to anchor Jake Tapper, who explained to viewers that it did so because Trump was delivering “anti-immigrant rhetoric,” The Hill reported.

Meanwhile, MSNBC aired footage of Trump behind the podium in Atkinson but didn’t show the speech.

As Trump began his remarks, the network cut to anchor Rachel Maddow, who provided projected vote totals for the caucuses before going on to explain that MSNBC and other organizations have ceased providing an “unfiltered live platform” for the former president.

“There is a cost to us as a news organization of knowingly broadcasting untrue things,” Maddow said. “And that is a fundamental truth of our business and who we are.”

Representatives from CNN and MSNBC did not immediately respond to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker’s requests for comment.

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Jan. 5, 2024 | NY congressman backs off monthslong town hall media ban

Courtesy: Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

Placard displayed at an Aug. 22 town hall event hosted by U.S. Rep. Mike Lawler, R-NY, who is running for reelection.

— Courtesy: Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

U.S. Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., has ended a crackdown on media access to public town hall events hosted by his congressional office.

Beginning last August, Lawler — who is running for reelection in a tossup district facing redistricting in New York’s Hudson Valley — barred entry to journalists who don’t live in his district, while restricting the newsgathering capabilities of those allowed in.

He explained the restrictions as a means of protecting his town hall meetings from getting “hijacked by out-of-district political grandstanders” looking for a viral video clip.

Lawler’s campaign office did not respond to questions from the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker about its press policy for campaign-related events.

But on Jan. 5, Lawler reversed the town hall media ban, announcing that credentialed journalists will be allowed into the events and will be able to use cameras.

“Upon reflection, while well-intentioned, these rules could have been explained and implemented in a better way,” Lawler said. He also said that he would retract his policy of not taking questions from journalists at the town halls and would hold press gaggles after each event.

Up until the Jan. 5 policy shift, Lawler’s staff enforced a constituents-only standard at his town hall events. Journalists from The Journal News in Westchester County and The Highlands Current in Putnam County, because they live in Lawler’s district, were able to gain access to town hall events at times but were prohibited from bringing in cameras or making audio recordings.

A reporter from The New York Times and a camera crew from News 12 Westchester, however, were barred from fall town halls.

Lawler, one of 18 Republican members of Congress elected in 2022 to swing districts where voters favored President Joe Biden in 2020, drew criticism for the policy from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Also, Common Cause New York, a nonprofit dedicated to election reform, circulated a petition calling on the first-term congressman to let journalists into his events.

When asked by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker for more details about what led to Lawler’s about-face on press access, Nate Soule, Lawler’s deputy chief of staff, said in an email the change followed “feedback” about the policy.

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Jan. 2, 2024 | Trump team reverses denial of press credentials for rally

Two journalists were told — without explanation — that they could not be credentialed for a Donald Trump campaign rally on Jan. 5 in Mason City, Iowa, although they were ultimately approved for passes after applying a second time.

“I just reapplied for credentials for me and our political reporter,” Lisa Grouette, an editor for the local Globe Gazette newspaper posted on Jan. 1 on X, formerly known as Twitter. “But as it sits, it looks like, without any explanation, we’re not being allowed to cover the Trump rally in Mason City on Friday.”

One day later, however, Grouette announced that a second request for credentials was approved, though she said she was still not sure why they would have been denied in the first place.

Trump has a long history of revoking press credentials for news outlets for coverage perceived as unfavorable to him, both as a candidate and during his tenure as president.

When reached by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, Grouette declined to comment further or identify the second Globe Gazette reporter.

A Trump spokesperson commented to Newsweek regarding the denial: “What the f*** are you even talking about?” The spokesperson added: “We have Globe Gazette reporters at our events.”

But as Newsweek notes in its report, Trump has long demonized the press: “There have long been concerns over the former president's treatment of journalists and what a second term would look like.”

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Dec. 13, 2023 | Trump campaign denies student reporters credentials for Iowa event

Student reporters working with The Daily Iowan, an independent newspaper serving the University of Iowa, were denied credentials and later barred from entering a Dec. 13 campaign event for Donald Trump in the Hawkeye State.

Iowan politics editor Liam Halawith told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he, reporter Alejandro Rojas, photographer Bella Tisdale and videographer Ashley Weil were all denied access to cover the rally via email from the Trump campaign.

Halawith said Trump’s campaign team offered no reasons for denying the request for credentials for the event in Coralville, which was widely covered by local and national news organizations.

Halawith then appeared in person for the event at the Hyatt Regency in Coralville, and was barred from entering, he told the Tracker. He said that staff at the event did not explain why Daily Iowan reporters were not allowed to attend the event.

“I was denied via email then attempted to gain access by asking If I could…enter and asked if they could tell me why our team was denied,” Halawith told the Tracker. “They said I could not attend and didn't have an answer on the denial.”

Representatives from Trump’s campaign did not respond to requests for more information about why the student reporters were denied credentials.

Iowa’s caucuses for Republican presidential candidates begin on Jan. 15.

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Nov. 28, 2023 | Trump calls on government to ‘come down hard’ on MSNBC

Former President Donald Trump, without evidence in a late-night Nov. 28 post to the social media site Truth Social, accused MSNBC of baselessly attacking him in an effort to interfere with the 2024 election.

In a screenshot reposted to another platform, the front-runner for the Republican nomination called the television news outlet “nothing but a 24 hour hit job on Donald J. Trump and the Republic Party for purposes of ELECTION INTERFERENCE.”

Trump added that the government should “come down hard on them and make them pay for their illegal political activity.” The post did not specify what type of action he hoped the government would take.

The post also attacked Brian Roberts, chairman and CEO of MSNBC parent company Comcast Corporation, which owns multiple broadcast networks including NBC and Telemundo.

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Nov. 8, 2023 | Presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy targets news media in debate

During the opening minutes of the third Republican presidential debate, candidate Vivek Ramaswamy targeted NBC News anchor Kristen Welker and the “corrupt media establishment” in his response as to why he should be the party nominee for president.

In detailing how the Republican party became a “party of losers,” Ramaswamy turned his attention to Welker, one of three moderators: “It’s about you in the media and the corrupt media establishment.”

He also falsely claimed previous elections were rigged by the news media. “This media rigged the 2016 election, they rigged the 2020 election with the Hunter Biden laptop story and they’re going to rig this election unless we have accountability,” Ramaswamy said.

The debate aired on NBC News.

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