The Committee to Protect Journalists and the Freedom of the Press Foundation are among more than 20 groups partnering to introduce a new website which tracks threats to press freedom in the United States.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker launched Wednesday to gather data on arrests of journalists, physical attacks on reporters, equipment searches and seizures, prosecutions of the legal spreading of information (recently denounced as “leaks” by the Trump administration), and other threats to the free press.
So far in 2017, the site has tracked 19 arrests of journalists; 12 equipment searches and seizures; 11 physical attacks; and four cases of journalists who were detained, questioned or denied entry at borders.
“With the Trump administration ramping up its war on journalism, this initiative could not come at a more important time,” Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, said. “We hope it will be vital to highlighting the threats to press freedom in the U.S. and the important work journalists do to hold the government accountable.”
In an interview with ABC News, the new website’s managing editor, Peter Sterne, noted that American concerns over press freedom have historically been focused on other countries. “The U.S. is often seen as a beacon of press freedom in the world,” he said. “When freedom of the press in the U.S. is weakened, that has an effect around the world where other countries feel more emboldened to crack down on their own journalists.”
Since President Donald Trump took office in January, a number of high-profile cases of threats to press freedom have grabbed headlines. Six journalists were charged with felony rioting after covering protests at Trump’s inauguration. In May, a journalist in West Virginia was jailed for asking Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price about the House’s health care bill. And a Guardian reporter was physically attacked by Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte in Montana hours before Gianforte won his seat. (Gianforte was sentenced to community service and anger management classes.)
The Trump administration and Republican congressional leadership have also displayed hostility toward the press. All White House press briefings were held off-camera for most of July, and the president threatened to end all briefings in May after his staff struggled to match their versions of events to his regarding the firing of former FBI Director James Comey.
More recently, as the Senate health care debate was heating up in June, reporters on Capitol Hill were told they would no longer be permitted to record interviews with senators in Senate hallways, as they had been for years. (The Republican leadership reversed the rule after an uproar.) And last week journalists reported that Senate staffers curtailed their access while covering health care demonstrations, ordering them to stop filming arrests of protesters.
In addition to such incidents, the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker will catalog President Trump’s frequent negative commentary on the press in its “Chilling Statements” section.
The ramping up of Trump’s anti-journalist rhetoric has been followed by growing disdain for the press among many Americans. A poll by YouGov/The Economist on Tuesday found that 45 percent of Republicans support giving courts the power to shut down press outlets.
For this faction of the U.S. population, the Trump administration is offering its own version of weekly events. Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara was featured in a video posted on Trump’s Facebook page Wednesday morning, offering viewers “the real news” which they may have missed “because there’s so much fake news out there.” She reported on the country’s economic growth, Trump’s fight against the international gang MS-13, and Tuesday’s Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House. The video has been called propaganda by media outlets including ThinkProgress and Salon.
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