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In Their Words | Our Nov. 2019 Newsletter

November 1, 2019

Friends of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker:

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

Overview
We used the candy-fueled end of October to talk about our greatest fears — press freedom violations, of course — on social media by highlighting the words of those most affected: the journalists and news organizations directly involved in our cases.

If you follow @uspresstracker on Twitter and Facebook for daily news and those once-a-year pumpkin emojis, it looked like this:

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Making the Connections

News Editor Ben Watson, whose quote above is one of the spookiest, was returning from a reporting trip abroad earlier this month at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., when he was stopped and harassed by a border patrol officer. Upon learning Watson was a journalist, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent insisted Watson say that he wrote “propaganda” — and then made him repeat it — before he was allowed to enter the U.S.

Watson wrote about it for his outlet, Defense One, and others picked up the story, too.

At the Tracker, we’ve been capturing journalists stopped at the border since our launch in 2017. This month I wrote about these patterns of secondary screenings and harassment for one of our partner organizations, Columbia Journalism Review. In it, I talked about Watson’s case, and the similar political-based rhetoric and harassment facing journalists crossing our borders.

Also on the Tracker is a specialized database collecting all of President Donald Trump’s negative tweets about the media since he declared his candidacy in 2015.

Reporter Stephanie Sugars, who maintains the database, used it to highlight the connections between Trump’s media targets on Twitter and their appearance in a violent video played during a pro-Trump conference in Miami in the middle of the month.

The video, originally shared with The New York Times, shows a fake Trump rampaging through the “Church of Fake News,” shooting, stabbing and assaulting those in the pews, many of whom bore the faces of his political opponents and critics, as well as the logos of media outlets.

More than half of the news outlets and both of the journalists depicted in the graphic fake video, writes Sugars, have also been singled out in anti-press tweets published by the president.

Explore the live U.S. Press Freedom Tracker database tracking these tweets—including tweets by year, primary target, and terms like "fake news"—here.

Our reports on new cases and incident tracking continued this month as well:

Subpoenas and Search Warrants

Editors at Pulso Estudiantil, a university publication in Puerto Rico, learned of the existence of a search warrant collecting information from its Facebook account this September, more than two years after that warrant was issued by the Justice Department and executed by the social media company.

The same search warrant also gathered Facebook account information from two other university publications.

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In Kansas, journalists at two local newspapers have been subpoenaed for testimony as part of a criminal case against a former community college football coach featured in a Netflix documentary who allegedly impersonated a high-powered Los Angeles attorney as part of a scheme to intimidate the journalists.

It’s a case worth a read and a subpoena that Andy Taylor, one of the journalists called to testify, says he is more than happy to comply with.

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Charged under the Espionage Act

A counterterrorism analyst for the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency was arrested and accused of leaking classified information about a foreign country’s weapons systems to two journalists.

Henry Kyle Frese was charged Oct. 9 under the Espionage Act with two counts of willful transmission of national defense information. Frese is the eighth person to be prosecuted by President Trump’s Justice Department for allegedly sharing confidential information with the press. Press freedom advocates have long been concerned about the troubling implications Espionage Act prosecutions have on press freedom.

Special Election Section

A specialized year-long election tracking project launches this Sunday, Nov. 3, when we begin collecting press freedom violations from federal candidates and their teams. Those stories will be collected as an ongoing blog post — which will be found on our Tracker home page — and I’ll keep you informed here in this monthly newsletter as those are collected.

All the Updates

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

Jarrod Ramos, the man accused of murdering five Capital Gazette staff members in June 2018, pleaded guilty on Oct. 28. Ramos had previously entered a not guilty plea.

Some other recent updates of note:

  • Of the five subpoenas issued to BuzzFeed in the ongoing defamation case between Telsa CEO Elon Musk and caver Vernon Unsworth, a judge ruled this month to quash one subpoena for testimony from senior tech reporter Ryan Mac and uphold the second one, but with limitations on what he could be asked. Mac tweeted that it was a win for the free press;
  • October also saw an official apology and explanation from the Bridgeport, Connecticut, police chief regarding the arrest of Hearst Connecticut Media reporter Tara O’Neill in May;
  • The same immigration judge who denied the appeal of Mexican investigative journalist Emilio Gutiérrez Soto to remain in the U.S in 2017 has again denied asylum to him and his son this February. Gutiérrez, who is the Knight-Wallace Fellow for Journalists at the University of Michigan, will appeal the decision through his lawyers.

Welcome and Support

We’d like to extend a warm welcome to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker’s newest partner, the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation. The work we do here is not possible without the support of our partner organizations and newsletter readers like you.

Consider supporting our work by making a donation to Freedom of the Press Foundation, where the Tracker is housed, as the year comes to a close.

Best,

Kirstin

Managing Editor, USPFT