U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Years later, Jan. 6 fallout continues for journalists

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Published On
July 28, 2023

Press freedom incidents so far in 2023 as documented by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Friends of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker:

Welcome back to your monthly newsletter around press freedom violations in the United States. Find archived editions here, and get this newsletter direct in your inbox by signing up here.

It’s been more than two-and-a-half years since a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, urged by the then-president to stop certification of electoral votes. So why, then, after all this time, is the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker still following federal prosecutions of rioters?

Because journalists were in the crosshairs that day, too, not just elected officials. According to our records, at least 18 journalists were assaulted while covering events inside and out of the Capitol. Reporters were forced to flee a media staging area as rioters hurled and broke news equipment, pitching it into a pyre to burn (the breaking part was successful; the burning part less so). German broadcaster ZDF and the Associated Press confirmed their equipment was among the damaged.

REUTERS/Erin Scott

Journalists survey damaged equipment outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 7, 2021, a day after rioters occupied the building and targeted the media for harassment, assaults and equipment damage.

— REUTERS/Erin Scott

And because arrests and sentencing of rioters who attacked journalists is ongoing. This month, two New York residents were sentenced on charges related to their destruction of media equipment. Prosecutors identified Long Island resident Gabriel Brown as part of the crowd that destroyed cameras, tripods and remote broadcasting equipment. On July 12, he was sentenced to 20 days incarceration followed by a year of supervised release and ordered to pay $500 in restitution for damage to the Capitol. About a week later, on July 20, Farmingdale resident Zvonimir Jurlina was sentenced to 14 days in prison and 24 months of probation, fined and ordered to pay $500 in restitution for damage to the Capitol.

Media and the J6 protests

As of this summer, the Department of Justice has charged more than 1,000 people for illegal activities at the Capitol on Jan. 6. But for the overwhelming majority of journalists attacked while reporting that day, no charges have been filed in their assaults, which range from being hit in the head with a fire extinguisher to being dragged out of the Capitol building. We’ll continue to follow those charged and watch for new prosecutions.

In the meantime, bookmark our blog about the charges and prosecutions against those who hurt journalists, which we update with charges and sentencing as available.

More from the Tracker

  • On July 11, a photojournalist in Allentown, Pennsylvania, was field reporting when he was hit multiple times with projectiles from a pellet gun fired by a passing assailant. WFMZ-TV News Director Brad Rinehart told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that one of the objects hit the cameraman in the corner of the eye, causing an irritation but no lingering injuries. Rinehart said he had no evidence that the attack was targeted. “On the other hand, [the photojournalist] had been shooting with his TV camera earlier in the day and may have been identified by the shooter.”
  • Also, in Philadelphia, a WTXF-TV news crew was shot at with a pellet gun from a moving vehicle while reporting outside of City Hall. While giving the night’s live report on May 17, reporter Shawnette Wilson was struck in the chest with multiple projectiles; she told the desk anchors she wasn’t injured.

These are two of the 13 assaults of journalists so far this year.

In the news

  • A Small-Town Paper Lands a Very Big Story: In digging into the story of a small-town newspaper in Oklahoma that made national headlines when public officials were caught on a recording musing how to bury the editor and reporter, The New Yorker cites the Press Freedom Tracker for number of assaults last year (it was 41).
  • Freedom of the Press Foundation works to improve news and democracy: Those in the Kansas City area heard my voice on community radio KKFI earlier this month as I lauded my old stomping grounds and all things FPF. We used the Tracker’s incident database to zone in on Missouri and Kansas, exploring specific press freedom aggressions from the area. (Also available streaming).