That a free press is integral to free speech was obvious to the founders, who guaranteed both in the First Amendment. But is it so obvious today? Under both Democratic and Republican presidents, federal investigators have helped themselves to the private records of the AP, CNN, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, as well as those of activist journalists on both the left and right.
In Kansas, police raided a small-town newspaper over a minor story involving public records and a DUI. The police confiscated newsroom computers containing reporters’ notes and source materials and putting the very existence of the paper at risk. Fortunately, Kansas has a state press shield law that grants media the right to keep source identities confidential. Journalists enjoy no such protections at the federal level. It is not clear what recourse, for example, Tampa-based journalist Tim Burke has after the FBI stormed his home in May, confiscating his computer, cellphone, and information on multiple stories and their sources.
If trust is the coin of the realm, then the federal government’s coinage is debased. The Pew Research Center reports that only 2 percent of Americans trust the government in Washington to do what is right “just about always.” Only 19 percent believe the government acts correctly “most of the time.”
To be sure, cynicism about government results from spectacular failures of competent governance. The cynicism also reflects the loudly proclaimed belief by political leaders that the other party, once in control, will weaponize investigations and prosecutions, while thumbing the scale for its friends and allies. While these fears are sometimes overstated, the solution is not to weaponize government for one side against the other, but to hold government accountable to everyone.
One of the best ways to restore trust is to protect the freedom of journalists to do their jobs. From Watergate to the Pentagon papers, to the depredations of Harvey Weinstein, to the roiling controversies of our day, journalists’ revelations have been enabled by whistleblowers, brave men and women willing to risk it all to reveal wrongdoing.
All states save Wyoming offer greater journalist protections than the federal government. South Carolina, to cite just one of 49 examples, enacted a press shield law in 1993 to protect journalists from being compelled to divulge their sources. The preface to the law boldly states: “The General Assembly finds that it is vital in a democratic society that the public have an unrestricted flow of information on matters of concern to the public and that the threat of compelled testimony … interferes with the free flow of information to the public.”
The good news is that as events spin into overdrive in the nation’s capitol, congressional leaders in both parties are coming to see the wisdom of following South Carolina’s example. They are ready to temper government actions to protect journalists and press freedom from overweening federal prosecutors by passing a federal press shield law, the Protect Reporters from Exploitive State Spying (PRESS) Act.
The PRESS Act protects both journalists and their sources. The latter is important, because whistleblowers need the assurance that the reporter with whom they speak in confidence cannot be compelled to betray their trust. The PRESS Act offers that promise by establishing a federal statutory privilege shielding journalists from being compelled to reveal confidential sources. It would also block attempts to compel disclosure of account information from communications services used by reporters.
In 2007 and again in 2009 as a member of the House, Protect The 1st Senior Policy Advisor Rick Boucher was the primary author of the forerunner to the PRESS Act. He saw it pass the House twice with large bipartisan majorities, and then die – as so many good bills do – in the Senate.
This time, the stars seem to be aligning in the Senate for passage of the PRESS Act. Lindsay Graham, South Carolina’s senior senator and the Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee, is cosponsoring the measure. Sen. Graham joins a strong bipartisan team that includes Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sens. Ron Wyden (R-OR) and Mike Lee (R-UT).
The PRESS Act also enjoys strong bipartisan leadership in the House from Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-CA) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD). House support ranges from conservative Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, to liberals like former committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY). During the last Congress, the House approved the PRESS Act by a bipartisan, unanimous voice vote.
The acceptance of press shield laws by 49 states demonstrates sweeping public support for freedom of the press. At a time when trust is scarce, wouldn’t it be refreshing to see national leaders in both parties pass a popular measure that enhances a fundamental freedom and holds government accountable?
Across America, from small towns to Washington, D.C., officials are misusing their authority to punish journalists.
In April, Protect The 1st reported that on at least two occasions, agents at ICE used a legal tool meant to aid in criminal investigations to pressure news organizations into revealing information about their sources.
In May, we reported that the FBI raided the home of a journalist, seizing his computer, hard drives, and cellphone, after he published embarrassing outtakes of a Fox News interview – which had already been posted online.
In August, Protect The 1st reported on the death of an elderly publisher in rural Kansas shortly after local police raided her home.
In November, we reported on an Alabama district attorney who arrested a publisher and a reporter for reporting on leaks from a grand jury about the mishandling of Covid funds.
Also this month we reported on the “ticketing” of a local journalist by Calumet City, Illinois, for having the temerity to send 14 emails over a nine-day period to city officials seeking comment on local flooding.
The First Amendment is clear, but the trend against it continues in the wrong direction, with such incidents piling up recently. The question is: why? We believe these clumsy attempts to punish the press can only be the result of the poor civics education of these officials in their youth. It also reflects an increasing appetite by politicians of all stripes to weaponize the law.
There is, fortunately, a bulwark against such local abuses. Forty-nine states have passed press shield laws that protect journalists and their sources. Yet Congress has not enacted a national shield law to protect reporters from federal prosecutors and courts. The Protect Reporters from Exploitive State Spying (PRESS) Act would limit the ability of prosecutors to expose the sources and notes of journalists in federal court. The PRESS Act passed through the House Judiciary Committee to the full House by a unanimous 23-0 vote in July.
The PRESS Act would have made a difference in the case of CBS News senior correspondent Catherine Herridge who, earlier this year, was ordered by a judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to reveal the identity of a confidential source or sources she used for a series of 2017 stories published while she worked at Fox News. Her stories covered Chinese-American scientist Yanping Chen, subject of a federal counterintelligence probe. Chen subpoenaed Herridge and Fox News, with the hope of unmasking the source(s) for the stories. Herridge has since refused to reveal her source(s), and Chen’s lawyers are asking the judge to hold the journalist in contempt of court.
The Herridge case is all the more reason for a federal shield law in the form of the PRESS Act. No federal legislation, however, can change the dysfunctional, constitutionally illiterate, and illegal acts by government officials against reporters. That is not a matter of law, but of culture and education. Press freedom is strong only when people and the powers that be understand it and respect it.
Most reporters aspire to superlatives like “dogged,” “tenacious,” and “persistent.” In Calumet City, Illinois, such traits are seen by some as a liability. In fact, they can you ticketed. That’s what happened recently to Daily Southtown reporter Hank Sanders, who was cited for “interference/hampering of city employees” after sending 14 emails over a nine-day span to a handful of city officials seeking comment about flooding in the small town.
Sanders had previously reported that outside consultants told Calumet City officials that their stormwater infrastructure was in poor condition prior to historic flooding that occurred in September. Subsequently, Sanders continued his efforts to get to the bottom of the story – which apparently did not sit well with city officials like Mayor Thaddeus Jones, who was listed as a complainant on Sanders’ citation.
Likewise, Sanders’ persecution at the hands of smalltown city officials didn’t sit well with the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune (which shares a parent company with the Daily Southtown). In an editorial, they called the city’s behavior “clownish.” Executive editor Mitch Pugh went a bit further:
“[Calumet City’s actions] represent a continued assault on journalists who, like Hank, are guilty of nothing more than engaging in the practice of journalism. From places like Alabama to Kansas to Illinois, it appears public officials have become emboldened to take actions that our society once viewed as un-American. Unfortunately, in our current political climate, uneducated buffoonery has become a virtue, not a liability, but the Tribune will vigorously stand up for Hank’s right to do his job.”
There is no room to be dismissive of this event. It is yet another recent example in a worrying trend in small-town America where power-drunk officials attempt to punish reporters for committing the act of journalism.
One instance to which Pugh refers we recently wrote about: a small town publisher and reporter were arrested in Alabama for reporting on a grand jury leak about the alleged mishandling of COVID relief funds in a local school district. The other we wrote about in August – police in Kansas raided the Marion County Record in an effort to track down an informant who revealed information about a local restauranteur’s DUI.
In that instance, the paper’s 98-year-old co-owner died a day after her home was raided.
The Calumet City controversy has a happier ending. On Nov. 6, the city attorney – who seems roundly embarrassed by the whole ordeal – sent a letter to Tribune lawyers dropping the citation. And the Tribune itself seems to be enjoying a deserved bout of schadenfreude over the city’s capitulation. The trend line, however, is declining respect for the First Amendment and a free press. Reporters must feel free to pursue stories of public interest without fear of reprisal.
Sanders himself perhaps put it best: “I will continue to be reaching out to the correct department or employee for comment when I want a comment from that department or employee. To do otherwise is unethical.”
Forbids Newspaper from Reporting on Crime, Seizes Cellphones from School Board Members and Publisher
Much digital ink has been spilled about the arrest of a small-town publisher and reporter in Atmore, Alabama, for reporting on a grand jury leak about the alleged mishandling of COVID relief funds in the local school district. But events surrounding the arrests of these two journalists should be of even greater concern to First Amendment advocates.
While Alabama law makes it a crime for grand jurors, witnesses, and others directly involved in a grand jury proceeding to disclose information from these secret hearings, this prohibition does not include journalists. Moreover, a long line of U.S. Supreme Court precedents, harking back to the Pentagon Papers, make it clear that journalists can report leaks, even when the leak is illegal. This is judged necessary for freedom of the press. Time and again, such reporting has broken loose the logjam of secrecy, incompetence, and inside-dealing that often hardens inside powerful institutions.
But the plain facts and the law did not stop Escambia County District Attorney Stephen Billy from charging Atmore News publisher Sherry Digmon and reporter Don Fletcher with a felony charge of reporting grand jury information, carrying a penalty of between one to three years imprisonment and a fine of $5,000.
Worse, from a constitutional perspective, are bail terms that prohibit the journalists from reporting on “ongoing criminal investigations.” In this one brilliant move, District Attorney Billy ventured from criminalizing reporting into the worst offense against free speech – prior restraint.
“The bail terms would be unconstitutional even if they only restricted the journalists from further reporting on the grand jury investigation of the school district, especially when there was no legal or constitutional basis to punish that reporting in the first place,” said Seth Stern, director of advocacy at the Freedom of the Press Foundation. “That overbreadth turns an already flagrantly unconstitutional gag order into a fundamentally un-American attempt at retaliatory censorship to silence the free press. Everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves.”
The Atmore News today posts a straightforward, factual account of the arrests of its publisher and reporter. Could that be construed by the district attorney as a bail violation? It is not clear. And when legal standards are not clear, the free practice of journalism suffers.
In a separate action, District Attorney Billy dispatched sheriff’s deputies with search warrants to seize the cellphones of four members of the Escambia County Board of Education who voted not to renew the contract of the local school superintendent. One of the board members was publisher Sherry Digmon. The stated purpose of the raid was to investigate a possible telephone violation of Alabama’s Open Meetings Law by the four board members, even though violations are a civil matter under Alabama law. It is not a crime.
It would be easy to dismiss this case as an outlier by a bumbling local district attorney. As the Dude says in The Big Lebowski, “this aggression will not stand, man!” It is all but certain District Attorney Billy and his case will not fare any better than did that of the small-town police chief in Kansas who raided the local newspaper and seized all its equipment over the reporting of a local businesswoman’s DUI record.
But even when intimidation fails, the hassle and embarrassment of an arrest and the confiscation of phones and equipment cannot be far from the minds of local journalists these days.
That such cases are beginning to pop up around the country is one more sign that America is drifting away from our constitutional moorings.
An FBI raid on the home of a Tampa-based journalist, and the seizure of his computer, hard drives, cellphone and all they contain, is raising questions about the fidelity of the Department of Justice to a year-old revision to its News Media Policy announced by Attorney General Merrick Garland. Under that policy, the Department is forbidden from using compulsory legal processes to obtain the newsgathering records of journalists, except in extreme circumstances.
Now a wide spectrum of press freedom and civil liberties organizations are asking the Department of Justice to provide transparency about this FBI raid in May. The FBI executed its search warrant at the home of journalist Tim Burke, which he shares with his wife, Tampa city councilwoman Lynn Hurtak. The credibility of this extreme action is highly questionable, leaving the Department to explain how this ransacking of a journalist’s home and seizure of his devices differs from the now-widely ridiculed police raid on a newspaper in rural Kansas.
Burke is a former staffer of The Daily Beast and Deadspin. The reporting that put him in crosshairs of the FBI ran in Vice News and Media Matters for America (MMFA). Yet many civil libertarians are voicing suspicions, based on a government response brief, that DOJ may not regard Burke as a valid journalist worthy of the enhanced protections afforded reporters under the Privacy Protection Act of 1980.
What we can say is that the FBI criminal investigation involves purported “hacking” of Fox News under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and wiretapping laws. Burke reported on embarrassing outtake videos from former Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson’s interview with Ye – formerly known as Kanye West – which were then published by Vice News MMFA.
In the outtakes, Ye comes across as deranged and in serious need of help, voicing one ugly, juvenile antisemitic conspiracy theory after another. Carlson cut these lengthy and offensive rants from the interview, making Ye appear far more thoughtful than he is. Carlson concluded his show by saying that Ye is “not crazy” and is “worth listening to.” It is easy to see why even after Fox News fired Carlson that it would find these outtakes embarrassing.
Fox News has since been intent on identifying the source of the leak. Fox sent a letter to MMFA earlier this month, demanding the outlet stop airing videos that were “unlawfully obtained.” MMFA president Angelo Carusone responded: “Reporting on newsworthy leaked material is a cornerstone of journalism ... Like any respectable media outlet, we won’t discuss confidential sourcing of any of our materials.”
For his part, Burke says he obtained the unaired portions of the Tucker Carlson interview with Ye by visiting a publicly available website used to transmit live feeds of broadcasts. Fox News had apparently uploaded the video to the public site without encrypting it or keeping anyone from downloading it.
Burke did use a user ID and password for a “demo account” provided to him by a source. That source, Burke says, found the credentials on a public website, without any restriction on their use. Given these facts suggest an impingement on the First Amendment and the practice of journalism, Attorney General Garland should direct the Department of Justice to provide a degree of transparency in this case. Among questions that need to be answered:
Burke claims he obtained the outtakes from a public source, with help from a source who knew how to access publicly posted credentials to download the raw interview.
There may be legitimate answers to some of these questions that put the Department’s actions in a better light. If they do not, however, DOJ and the FBI run the risk of resembling the bumbling, Barney Fife-like police chief in Kansas who raided a newspaper and, by the way, just resigned.
The Protect Reporters from Exploitive State Spying, or PRESS Act, now has strong bipartisan support, with 20 co-sponsors. This milestone comes shortly after the bill received unanimous support from the House Judiciary Committee back in July.
The breadth of support for this measure is impressive. It was introduced by Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-CA) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD). Co-sponsors range from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), to Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA), from Rep. Ben Cline (R-VA) to Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), from Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-WY) to Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).
They support one answer to the following question: Should the government be free to dig into the records, notes, phone logs and emails of journalists or subpoena them into federal courts to catch a leaker? Their answer is a resounding “no.”
Perhaps it is no coincidence that many of the sponsors hail from California, which has strong laws that protect journalists, their notes and by implication, their sources.
The California Constitution and the California Evidence Code, as interpreted by the California Supreme Court, are “shield laws” that give broad protection to journalists’ notes and sources. Throughout the Golden State, reporters, editors, publishers, and others employed by all forms of media are immune from being held in contempt for protecting “confidential sources” and “unpublished information,” including their notes.
Every state has such a law except for Wyoming. The federal government does not.
As events spin into overdrive in Washington, D.C., Congressional leaders in both parties are coming to see the wisdom of following California’s example and tempering government actions by protecting the ability of journalists to get the straight, inside skinny from whistleblowers.
Whistleblowers need the assurance that the reporter with whom they speak in confidence cannot be compelled to betray their trust. The PRESS Act protects journalists and their sources. The PRESS Act establishes a federal statutory privilege shielding journalists from being compelled to reveal confidential sources. It would also block attempts to compel disclosure of account information from communications services used by reporters.
This is a reasonable bill, one that would allow the breaking of this privilege only in extreme circumstances. During the last Congress, the House approved the PRESS Act with a bipartisan, unanimous voice vote.
Rep. Kiley said: “As acknowledged by America’s founders, the freedom of the press to report on and disseminate information is critical to our republic. Our bipartisan legislation further codifies these First Amendment principles into law and will mitigate infringement upon the Constitution by the federal government.”
The acceptance of shield laws by the states shows that the principles of the PRESS Act are popular. At a time when trust is scarce, wouldn’t it be refreshing to see federal leaders in both parties pass a popular measure that enhances freedom and holds government accountable?
Bipartisan support for the Protect Reporters from Exploitive State Spying (PRESS) Act just became stronger after Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) signed on as a co-sponsor.
Sen. Graham and Protect The 1st’s own Senior Policy Advisor Rick Boucher – a long-time Democratic U.S. Representative from Virginia – were co-sponsors of an earlier version of the bill. In the current Congress, Reps. Kevin Kiley (R-CA) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD) are working across the aisle to secure wide support for the bill in the House, as are Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) in the Senate.
The PRESS Act would provide a federal shield law protecting journalists from surveillance or compelled disclosures of source materials, except in emergency situations. Forty-nine states have such a law, but the federal government does not.
The PRESS Act appeals to conservatives, who remember the Obama Administration’s targeting and spying on James Rosen of Fox News for reporting on North Korea’s nuclear program. And it appeals to liberals who want to safeguard the investigative role of reporters. Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the “PRESS Act creates critical protections for the fearless journalists who act as government watchdogs and keep us all informed.”
“The PRESS Act passed the U.S. House unanimously last year and was recently favorably reported again without dissent by the House Judiciary Committee,” said Rick Boucher. “We are heartened to see Sen. Graham join so many other leaders in both houses and both parties in standing up for a free press that enforces accountability on the government.”
Bob Goodlatte, Protect The 1st Senior Policy Advisor and former Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, also hailed Sen. Graham’s support for the PRESS Act.
“When the House again passes the PRESS Act, which seems likely, it is encouraging to also see strong bipartisan support emerging in the Senate,” Goodlatte said. “Sen. Graham’s leadership on the PRESS Act is a very welcome development.”
Will Outrage Prompt Congress to Pass the PRESS Act?
National outrage over a rural Kansas police department’s ransacking of a newspaper, the Marion County Record, will almost certainly result in a massive legal reckoning. But will its larger implications prompt Congress to move to protect journalists from similar interference by federal authorities?
Here’s the background: On Friday, the Marion police department launched simultaneous raids on the homes of a reporter, an 80-year-old councilwoman, and The Record’s 98-year-old co-owner, Joan Meyer, mother of editor Eric Meyer. According to the account in The Record, the trauma left Joan Meyer “stressed beyond her limits,” prompting her to quit eating, and to collapse and die the next day.
And for what? The Marion police launched this extreme execution of a search warrant to track down an informant who revealed a letter from a state agency about a local restauranteur’s DUI to a Record reporter. The newspaper ultimately chose not to print this story out of concern that the informant acted maliciously in revealing the restauranteur’s personal information.
“The police confiscation of virtually all of the equipment of a 4,000-circulation newspaper will be one for the textbooks in both law and journalism schools,” said Rick Boucher, Senior Policy Advisor to Protect The 1st and a former U.S. Representative from Virginia and Member of the House Judiciary Committee. “The seizure of a newsroom is an outrage that demonstrates that absent proper legal restraints, and sometimes even with them, some in officialdom will use a petty excuse to pry open a reporter’s notebooks.
“These events triggered a raid in which the police seized computers, servers and snatched cellphones,” he said. “The Record reports that one reporter’s hand was reinjured by having her phone forcibly jerked out of her hand. The police took so much equipment that the staff is scrambling to find a way to publish the newspaper’s next edition.
“The police did not just raid The Record, they potentially put it out of print. And as a result, the police – and the politicians they work for – now have ready access to vast amounts of confidential interviews, official contacts, and other investigations that any local paper customarily conducts into city hall.”
Boucher noted that the raid is likely a violation of the federal Privacy Protection Act of 1980, opening the door to significant liability for the town.
“The larger takeaway from this event is the appetite that some in authority have to bully a sometimes nettlesome press,” Boucher said.
“Kansas, like most states, has a shield law that protects journalists and their sources,” he said. “Rather than taking the extreme step of raiding the newspaper’s office and seizing all of its records, if the police had probable cause to believe that stolen property was in the possession of the paper, a subpoena for the record in question would have put in motion a court proceeding at which a judge could have decided whether the Kansas shield law applies. It will be instructive to read the probable cause affidavit behind the search warrant that was issued.”
Boucher noted that the federal government, with its huge apparatus of prosecutors and surveillance, is restrained by no such law. While lawmakers and journalists in Kansas sort out how to avoid events like this, Congress should take this opportunity to pass the Protect Reporters from Exploitive State Spying (PRESS) Act to give journalists at least some protection from official intimidation.
The PRESS Act passed the U.S. House unanimously last year and was recently favorably reported again without dissent by the House Judiciary Committee.
“The House should schedule a full vote when it returns in September,” Boucher said. “Action in the Senate should swiftly follow.”
Exhibit A for the PRESS Act – Judge Orders CBS’s Catherine Herridge to Reveal Her Confidential Sources
With perfect timing, Judge Christopher Cooper of the U.S. District Court in DC provided the U.S. Senate today with ample to reason to follow the example of the House and pass the PRESS Act. The judge seeks to compel CBS News senior correspondent Catherine Herridge to reveal her confidential source or sources for a news series she published when she was a journalist at Fox News.
Confidentiality is the lifeblood of a free press. From Watergate to Harvey Weinstein, confidential sources have helped journalists bring to light malfeasance and hidden crimes that otherwise would have continued. And a strong reporting culture is a counter to the growing surveillance state enabled by technology. That is why in September, 2022, the House unanimously passed the bipartisan Protect Reporters from Exploitive State Spying, or PRESS Act – and the House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved it again on July 19 of this year.
This measure would bring the federal government up to speed with 49 states by shielding reporters from choosing between jail or ratting out whistleblowers and sources as ordered by a federal judge or prosecutor. The PRESS Act is reasonable legislation, allowing for exceptions in extreme cases.
Protect The 1st supports Herridge and all journalists who face similar dilemmas. This is all the more reason why the House should again pass this bill and the U.S. Senate should take up the PRESS Act when Congress returns after August recess.
PT1 is pleased that the House Judiciary Committee reported H.R. 4250, the Protect Reporters from Exploitative State Spying (PRESS) Act, to the full House by a unanimous 23-0 vote.
This bill, long supported by Protect The 1st and civil liberties sister organizations, would protect journalists and their sources by granting a privilege to shield confidential news sources in federal legal proceedings. It contains reasonable exceptions in cases where application of the privilege could result in serious harm.
Former Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA), PT1 Senior Policy Advisor, said:
“The PRESS Act was approved today because courts continue to hold journalists in contempt and even jail them for refusing to reveal their confidential sources. The Committee today made a bold statement that this is not acceptable. I am heartened to see such a strong, bipartisan stand for a free and unintimidated press.”
Former Rep. Bob Goodlatte who served as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and now as PT1 Senior Policy Advisor, said:
“Journalism and the right to report on government actions must be better protected. We’ve all seen law enforcement officials under multiple recent administrations issue secret orders to surveil the private communications of journalists. Their freedom to report on government misdeeds is critical to maintaining a free society, and I encourage the broader House of Representatives to swiftly approve this legislation, as they have in the past.”
We would like to extend our gratitude to Reps. Kiley and Raskin for their leadership in introducing the bill, as well as to Chairman Jordan and Ranking Member Nadler for their support in moving it through committee.
The PRESS Act’s passage is the result of overwhelming bipartisan support for freedom of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution. Protect the 1st hopes the full House will take up and pass this important legislation soon.
Applauds Reps. Kiley and Raskin, and Sens. Wyden and Lee, for Leadership in Introducing Important Bill
The PRESS Act – Protect Reporters from Exploitive State Spying Act – was introduced in the U.S. House and Senate this morning.
This legislation would limit the ability of prosecutors to expose the sources and notes of journalists in federal court. While 49 U.S. states have such press “shield laws,” the federal government has no such protections. This has led to federal intrusions into the records of the Associated Press, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, as well as advocacy journalists on the left and right.
The PRESS Act had previously passed the House with unanimous, bipartisan support in September 2022. Today, it was introduced by Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-CA) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), and in the Senate by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT).
“Support for the PRESS Act sweeps across ideological divisions in both houses of Congress because it is widely recognized that the basic liberties of all are at stake,” said Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, former Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and Senior Policy Advisor of Protect The 1st. “At a time when voters and constituents in both parties are concerned about the potential for federal power to be abused and misused, passing the PRESS Act into law this year should be a point of pride for any incumbent.”
Rick Boucher, former Virginia congressman, member of the House Judiciary Committee, and now Senior Policy Advisor of Protect The 1st, also stressed the need to pass this legislation in 2023. He was also the lead sponsor of a forerunner bill, the federal press shield legislation that passed the House in 2007 and 2009.
“Journalists have been held in contempt and jailed for refusing to reveal their confidential news sources,” Boucher said. “When big scandals, corruptions, and misdeeds that harm the public interest come to light, it is usually because some brave soul on the inside was willing to speak to a reporter.
“Let’s protect that whistleblower,” Boucher said. “And let’s protect that journalist as well. By doing so, we protect all our rights.”
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker reports that the overwhelming majority of police arrests of journalists occur while they are reporting on ongoing protests. When journalists are arrested, they often lose access to their phones and their computers. The potential for police review of the content stored on their cameras makes journalists particularly vulnerable targets.
For this reason, reporters have begun writing what are known as “legal support numbers” – names and phone numbers of their attorneys -- on their inner arms or bodies. After all, one’s contact lists aren’t much use if one’s phone is confiscated or destroyed.
However, criminal prosecutors are now starting to argue that writing contact information on your body prior to attending a protest is evidence of criminal intent. This is because not only journalists are writing legal support numbers, but so too are protestors and activists. The argument is that, if a person is writing numbers on their body which would only be useful if they is jailed, then that person reasonably expects they will get into an altercation with the police. The outcome would be to effectively criminalize legal support numbers.
Freedom of the Press Foundation argues that if prosecutors succeed in criminalizing legal support numbers for protesters, it’s just a matter of time before the same arguments are made against journalists. For that reason, more than 40 organizations are seeking to challenge prosecution arguments against legal support numbers on the basis that criminalizing them would violate the First Amendment as well as the Sixth Amendment right to legal counsel.
The National Lawyers Guild, leading this coalition, states that “[p]eople write these numbers on their arms in preparation for demonstrations precisely because they know they may be unjustly detained, and because they know that police use mass arrest as a form of crowd control that is calculated to disrupt protected speech.”
Protect The 1st is alarmed to see prosecutors targeting Americans for taking steps to ensure their access to legal counsel in the event they are arrested.
When the charges brought against arrested protestors can include domestic terrorism, access to counsel is vital. It also has the added benefit of being a constitutional right. Journalists fulfill a vital role in our democracy, and assuming guilt simply for writing a phone number will only serve to chill speech and undermine our First Amendment rights.
PT1st looks forward to further developments in this story, and in these cases.
Happy World Press Freedom Day! If you are a journalist heading out to do an interview, please be careful in your movements, your digital security, and the protection of your sources. In some countries, you might want to check under your car before starting the ignition.
But be advised that even these safety measures may not be enough to protect you.
Like many declarations of the United Nations, the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day is observed in the breach in many UN member countries. The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that the number of journalists killed in 2022 was 50 percent higher than the previous year. UNESCO reports that in all, 86 journalists were killed last year.
That’s a reporter killed every four days.
In Mexico, where many journalists have been murdered, the government and the cartels are the most prolific users of Pegasus, surveillance software that can transform any smartphone into a comprehensive 24/7 surveillance device. This spyware reveals one’s texts, emails, images, and calendar, while turning a smartphone’s microphone and camera against its owner. The New York Times reports that Mexico’s federal spy agency has “targeted more cellphones with the spyware than any other government agency in the world.”
And, of course, criminal actors have full use of this technology in much of the world. Cartels used Pegasus to track down journalist Cecilio Pineda Birto hours after he accused the state police force and local politicians of conspiring with violent criminals. He was gunned down while waiting for his car to come out of a carwash. Twenty-six Mexican journalists were targets of interest by a buyer of this technology in recent years.
This is in keeping with Secretary Guterres’ statement that “90 percent of the journalists killed” are “covering local issues, human rights violation, corruption, illegal mining, environment problems.” He added that many of the killers “are not only state actors, they are organized crime, drug lords, environmental criminals.”
In some parts of the world, the line between state actors and thuggery is nonexistent. Witness the ordeal of Evan Gershkovich of The Wall Street Journal, arrested on specious charges of being an American spy by the judicial puppets of the Vladimir Putin regime. Or Jimmy Lai, the Hong Kong publisher who bravely defied the Chinese Communist Party and has disappeared behind bars.
In other parts of the world, journalists are intimidated by online attacks and loose libel laws that keep journalists legally and psychologically intimidated.
Throughout, the marriage of increasingly potent surveillance technology and illiberal regimes is making the practice of journalism more difficult. This is true even in the United States. A Texas journalist was arrested for – get this – “misuse of official information.” A Wall Street Journal reporter in Arizona was arrested for doing man-on-the-street interviews.
The press can often come at the truth with a slant or a sensational angle. The press can just get a story wrong. But the free and open practice of journalism is in the long run the only way for a free society to self-correct and sift out the truth. As the founders insisted, freedom of the press safeguards society against official corruption, malfeasance, and the lawless exercise of power.
While 49 U.S. states have press shield laws, there is no federal law that protects the notes and sources of a journalist from being seized by a federal prosecutor. All the more reason to celebrate World Press Freedom in America by asking Congress to get behind the PRESS Act, which would extend these basic protections to the federal government.
Prosecutors in Asheville, North Carolina, are insisting on pressing forward with the prosecution of two journalists for daring to document a police sweep of a homeless encampment.
Matilda Bliss and Veronica Coit were arrested and charged for trespassing on Christmas night, 2021. Their crime? They stood on a rise above the scene in a city park after the park’s 10 p.m. closing time. By the admission of all, the journalists could not have seen the eviction, must less filmed it, from a public sidewalk or lower down in the park. They were where they needed to be to document this story.
On April 19, Bliss and Coit were finally convicted of trespassing in a bench trial. They are now exercising their rights to appeal their case before a jury. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, which maintains data on press freedom violations, reveals that this is only the fourth such trial in the United States in the last five years. The Tracker has no record of a journalist being sentenced to jail or probation for trespassing since it began documenting the arrests of journalists in 2017.
Concerned about the chilling effect such prosecutions have on a free press, Protect The 1st joined with a coalition of civil liberties organizations, in a letter organized by the Freedom of the Press Foundation, to protest these prosecutions to the Asheville city attorney, the police chief, and the Buncombe County district attorney. The letter states that “a government interested in transparency should not want to set a precedent that journalists cannot cover newsworthy events, in plain sight and on public land, at night.
“The news does not keep regular business hours and citizens are entitled to know what police are doing at any hour.”
The actions of local officials and statements by police, caught on body-cam footage, show no love lost for The Asheville Blade. It is easy to see why. The Blade advertises itself as “a leftist local news co-op focusing on hard-hitting journalism, in-depth investigation and sharp views from our city.” The Blade’s critical eye may make it the bête noir of city and law enforcement officials. But having a point of view doesn’t make this news outlet any less of a journalistic enterprise than the National Review or The Nation.
“The continued prosecution of the two Asheville Blade reporters sends a message that authorities can cherry-pick who qualifies as a journalist based on personal preference,” the letter concludes.
Protect The 1st will follow the case and report on the outcome of the appeal.
The victory of Dominion Voting Systems in securing a $787.5 million settlement against Fox News over its false claims about the election demonstrates that even high-profile plaintiffs can prevail under today’s libel law, despite the higher bar a “public figure” must clear to win.
There has been some concern over whether the distinction between public and private figures has been so blurred by the courts that the prevailing NYT v. Sullivan standard may reach too far beyond its original application, making it too difficult for severely libeled private parties to obtain redress. But Dominion certainly qualified as the corporate equivalent of a “public figure.” And yet it managed, in the court of public opinion at least, to clear that high bar showing “actual malice” on the part of the defendant, Fox News.
Tuesday’s settlement – even though it was not a verdict – shows that it is still possible to win under Sullivan. What about the impact of this settlement on a free press? Will this lawsuit have a chilling effect? Probably not. The statement put out by Fox acknowledged the facts of the case, and those facts were egregious.
Overall, the outcome appears to be the functioning of a legal principle that worked as intended.
We were relieved to hear Gov. Ron DeSantis repudiate the bill introduced in the Florida legislature that would have required bloggers who write about state-elected officials to register with the state government. The bill, which the American Civil Liberties Union says is “un-American to its core,” will not enjoy the governor’s support or signature. What the news giveth with one hand, however, it taketh with the other.
The Federal Trade Commission is now demanding that, in the wake of Twitter’s release of data about government coordination with its content management, the company must now “identify all journalists” granted access to company records, including the “nature of access granted each person.” FTC also asked if Twitter had conducted background checks on the journalists, among other things. The Wall Street Journal observed: “So here we have a federal agency demanding that a private company disclose its interactions with a free press, including how much it snooped on those reporters. None of this is the business of the government.”
It certainly isn’t the business of the Federal Trade Commission, any more than a blogger in Florida should have to comply with a Republican state senator’s proposal that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called “insane.”
First Amendment, folks. Not that hard.
Last year, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced an investigation into whether the Phoenix Police Department “engages in a pattern or practice of violations of the Constitution or federal law.”
As if to say, “I resemble that remark,” a Phoenix police officer was recently revealed by local TV news as having handcuffed a Wall Street Journal reporter doing man-on-the-street interviews with customers in front of a bank. “No journalist should ever be detained simply for exercising their First Amendment rights,” The Journal reacted to this event in a public statement.
The reporter, Dion Rabouin, was approached by bank executives but was not asked to leave the premises. When confronted by a Phoenix Police officer, Rabouin offered to leave – which was appropriate, given that he was on private property. But Rabouin was handcuffed nevertheless. No less important, a bystander who recorded the incident on a video phone was ordered to stop by the police officer.
“You wanna get arrested as well?” the police officer asked.
There are several important takeaways from this incident. First, the officer had no authority to tell the bystander to quit filming.
Last summer, we reported on Arizona’s space-squeezer law on citizens’ right to record the police. The law was an Arizona statute that allowed police to charge citizens who record them within eight feet, or who don’t stop recording when told to do so by an officer, with a misdemeanor. News organizations protested that this prohibition would easily dragoon protestors and news photographers on the move in an active protest.
But later in the year, a federal judge blocked the law, and the Arizona legislature declined to defend it. The arrest of the reporter that was recorded by the bystander demonstrates the need to respect citizens’ right to record.
Second, this incident is Exhibit A in a pattern identified by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press that there is an “alarming number of incidents we’ve seen over the last several years where police have detained, arrested, or assaulted journalists who were doing their jobs.” Witness the treatment of local Laredo, Texas, news blogger Priscilla Villarreal (aka “La Gordiloca”), who was arrested and humiliated in a police station for “misuse of official information.” Villarreal did beat the rap in court, but she did not beat the ride, enduring jeers and insults as she went through the booking process.
The Freedom of the Press Association recently reported that two North Carolina reporters who were filming an eviction of people from a homeless encampment were arrested after police instructed the crowd to disperse. Police seized one of the reporters’ phone, even though she identified herself as a reporter.
“Regardless of the outcome, the fact that these charges were even filed, let alone brought to trial, is an affront to press freedoms, and everyone involved should be ashamed,” wrote Seth Stern of the Freedom of the Press Association. “The First Amendment requires the government to let reporters gather news firsthand – not rely on self-serving spin from official sources. Courts tolerate restrictions on reporters’ access to public land only in exceptional circumstances, like serious public safety risks, and then restrictions must be narrow enough to avoid unduly interfering with newsgathering.”
In the DOJ’s Arizona investigation, the department says it is interested in investigating the Phoenix PD for violating “conduct protected by the First Amendment.” The Phoenix New Times – a long-time critic and bête noir of the local police – reports that DOJ may be interested in exploring overly aggressive use of rubber bullets and tear-gas against protestors, as well as the alleged targeting of activists for arrest and smearing them as gang members.
These concerns should lead Congress to renew and pass the PRESS Act, which would bar prosecutors, except in exigent circumstances, from requiring the revelation of the notes and sources of journalists in court – as 49 states already do. While this law curbs the actions of prosecutors, not police, and does so in court, not on the streets, the impulse of authorities to suppress the press is the same. So is the need to protect one of the most sacred guarantees of the First Amendment: freedom of the press.
The freedom of the press is a First Amendment right that protects the ability of every American to know what our government is doing in our name. Reporters expose much of what the powerful in government and in corporations would rather keep quiet, and in doing so, journalists face a variety of threats in the performance of their jobs: harassment, assault, improper legal action, and even death threats.
The Freedom of the Press Foundation has been monitoring and logging these dangers for several years now. They provide hard data on their U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, a database of incidents involving journalists in the United States. It is an indispensable tool for anyone who wants to preserve, protect, and enhance civil liberties by protecting a free and unencumbered press.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker tracks the arrests of journalists, the seizure of their equipment, assaults, and interrogations at the U.S. border. It also tracks legal actions, such as subpoenas and prior restraint orders. The database extends back to 2017, grouping its data by well-defined categories. Altogether, the database offers a comprehensive understanding of the threats to press freedom at a glance.
For example, one can see the explosion in assault incidents that coincided with the protests and riots of the summer of 2020. The tracker data are complemented by up-to-date reporting on these incidents.
Among the events it tracks and reports on are legal actions that threaten to intimidate reporting. In October, for example, Ohio’s Scioto Valley Guardian Editor-in-Chief Derek Myers was charged with felony wiretapping for publishing a recording of witness testimony from an ongoing trial in Ohio.
After judicial back-and-forth on whether to bar recordings of testimony in a murder trial, someone did just that. Myers was out of the country when he was provided a secret recording of the testimony taken by someone in the courtroom. Myers later published condensed portions of that recording.
Judge Anthony Moraleja responded by issuing a search warrant for the Guardian equipment. A laptop was seized, along with Myers’ cellphone. Myers was then charged with interception of wire, electronic, or oral communications. Myers’ attorneys pointed to the Supreme Court case Bartnicki v. Vopper, which ruled that the media cannot be held liable for publishing information that was obtained illegally by a source.
All this information was logged and reported by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, just one example of the rich resources civil liberties advocates can find here.
Protect The 1st today joined with almost 40 other civil liberties and news organizations, led by the Freedom of the Press Foundation, in a letter urging Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to include the PRESS Act in any year-end omnibus spending bill.
The PRESS Act, which passed the House in September, would provide a federal shield law protecting journalists from surveillance or compelled disclosure of source materials, except in emergency situations.
Other signers include the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Democracy & Technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, PEN America, and the Project for Privacy and Surveillance Accountability.
Read the whole letter here.
How wrong does a journalist have to be in her reporting to be held liable for a false statement about a public figure?
The baseline for libel of a public figure traces back to the 1964 New York Times v. Sullivan opinion, in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that a city public safety commissioner could not win a liable suit against a newspaper over minor misstatements in an ad. That case set a lasting precedent that in order to prevail a public figure must prove actual “malice” – a statement made knowing that it is false or with reckless disregard to its truth or falsity – to win a libel case.
The limits of protected speech and the definition of a public figure were expanded when Hustler publisher Larry Flynt was sued by The Rev. Jerry Falwell after producing a fictional and pornographic “interview” with him in the 1980s. The Court ruled against Falwell, holding that the prominent minister was a public figure for First Amendment purposes.
Recent years, however, have seen fine-tuning in the direction of the plaintiffs. In 2017, Rolling Stone magazine agreed to pay $1.65 million to the University of Virginia chapter of a fraternity after falsely portraying its members as brutal gang rapists. The magazine capitulated because the reporter in this case was demonstrated to have practiced a degree of carelessness that could easily be judged as “malice.”
An ongoing, high-profile case will once again demonstrate the courts’ application of the “malice” standard and the rights of public figures in a libel suit. A federal court will allow former Rep. Devin Nunes to proceed on one claim made by MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow on her eponymous TV show in 2021. Maddow’s statements concerned a mysterious package delivered to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence more than a year before. Addressed to Nunes, the package had come from a Ukrainian politician believed to be close to the Putin government. Nunes’ staff delivered the package unopened to the FBI, while Rep. Nunes sent a letter to the attorney general notifying him of the receipt of the package.
In July 2020, Rep. Sean Maloney publicly asked Rep. Nunes if he had ever received materials from this individual, Andriy Derkach, suspected by U.S. intelligence of operating on behalf of the Kremlin. And if so, would Nunes share what he had received with the committee? Nunes declined to answer.
On her show, Maddow said that the mailer “is singled out by name by the Director of National Intelligence as someone under Vladimir Putin’s direct purview who helped run this organization targeting our election last year. Congressman Nunes accepted a package from him. What was in it?”
Maddow’s next made more problematic statements: “Congressman Nunes has refused to answer questions about what he received from Andriy Derkach. He has refused to show the contents of the package to other members of the intelligence community. He has refused to hand it over to the FBI which is what you should do if you get something from somebody who is sanctioned by the U.S. as a Russian agent.”
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York refused to allow Rep. Nunes to sue over the statements that he had refused to answer questions, or that he had refused show the contents of the package to other members of the intelligence community. These statements are true (or true enough), the federal court reasoned, because to the average viewer the “intelligence community” would certainly cover the House intelligence oversight committee.
Where Maddow and her employer are at risk is the statement that Nunes refused to hand the package over to the FBI. The court found this statement “does not fall within the fair report privilege” because “it is not substantially true.” Thus, the court dismissed all of Nunes’ claims except this one.
Will Maddow’s false statement amount to “malice” in the eyes of the court? Would a loss by her lead to more careful reporting, or would it have a chilling effect on journalism? Once Maddow’s statement is litigated, the outcome will sharpen our understanding of how courts today judge a factual error, how they continue to apply libel law to public figures, and the implications of these judgments for the First Amendment.
This is a case to watch.
“The First Amendment bars the government from deciding for us what is true or false, online or anywhere,” the ACLU recently tweeted. “Our government can’t use private pressure to get around our constitutional rights.”
The ACLU responded to a report from Ken Klippenstein and Lee Fang of The Intercept news organization that the federal government works in secret to suggest content that social media organizations should suppress. The Intercept claims that years of internal DHS memos, emails, and documents, as well as a confidential source within the FBI, reveal the extent to which the government works secretly with social media executives in squashing content.
After a few days of cool appraisal of this story, we have to say we have more questions than answers. It is fair to note that The Intercept has had its share of journalistic controversies with questions raised regarding the validity of its reporting. It also appears that this report is significantly sourced on a lawsuit filed by the Missouri Attorney General, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate. We’ve also sounded out experts in this space who speculate that much of the content government is flagging is probably illegal content, such as Child Sexual Abuse Materials.
There is also reason for the government to track and report to websites state-sponsored propaganda, malicious disinformation, or use of a platform by individuals or groups that may be planning violent acts. If Russian hackers promote a fiction about Ukrainians committing atrocities with U.S. weapons – or if a geofenced alert is posted that due to the threat of inclement weather, an election has been postponed – there is good reason for officials to act.
The government is in possession of information derived from its domestic or foreign information-gathering that websites don't have, and the timely provision of that information to websites could be helpful in removing content that poses a threat to public safety, endangers children, or is otherwise inappropriate for social media sharing. It would certainly be interesting to know whether the social media companies find the government’s information-sharing efforts to be helpful or whether they feel pressured.
The undeniable problem here is the secret nature of this program. Why did we have to find out about it from an investigative report? The insidious potential of this program is that we will never know when information has been suppressed, much less if the reason for the government’s concern was valid.
The Intercept reports that the meeting minutes appended to Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s lawsuit includes discussions that have “ranged from the scale and scope of government intervention in online discourse to the mechanics of streamlining takedown requests for false or intentionally misleading information.”
In a meeting in March, one FBI official reportedly told senior executives from Twitter and JPMorgan Chase “we need a media infrastructure that is held accountable.” Does she mean a media secretly accountable to the government? Klippenstein and Fang report a formalized process for government officials to directly flag content on Facebook or Instagram and request that it be suppressed. The Intercept included the link to Facebook’s “content request system” that visitors with law enforcement or government email addresses can access.
The Intercept reports that the purpose of this program is to remove misinformation (false information spread unintentionally), disinformation (false information spread intentionally), and malinformation (factual information shared, typically out of context, with harmful intent). According to The Intercept, the department plans to target “inaccurate information” on a wide range of topics, including “the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, racial justice, U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the nature of U.S. support to Ukraine.”
The Intercept also reports that “disinformation” is not clearly defined in these government documents. Such a secret government program may include information gathered from activities that violate the Fourth Amendment prohibition on accessing personal information without a warrant. It would also be, to amplify the spirited words of the ACLU, a Mack Truck-sized flattening of the First Amendment.
One cannot ignore the potential that the government is doing more than helpfully sharing information with websites along with a suggestion that it be taken down. Is the information-sharing accompanied by pressure exerted by the government on the website? From the information now available, we simply don't know.
Bottom line: if these allegations are true, the U.S. government in some cases may be secretly determining what is and what is not truth, and on that basis may be quietly working with large social media companies behind the scenes to effect the removal of content. So, the possible origin of COVID-19 in a Chinese laboratory was deemed suppressible, until U.S. intelligence agencies reversed course and determined that a man-made origin of the virus is, in fact, a possibility. And the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan? Is our government suppressing content that suggests that it was somehow a less-than-stellar example of American power in action?
If these allegations are true, Jonathan Turley, George Washington University professor of law, is correct in calling this “censorship by surrogate.”
This program, which Klippenstein and Fang report is becoming ever more central to the mission of DHS and other agencies, is not without its wins. “A 2021 report by the Election Integrity Partnership at Stanford University found that of nearly 4,800 flagged items, technology platforms took action on 35 percent – either removing, labeling, or soft-blocking speech, meaning the users were only able to view content after bypassing a warning screen.” On the other hand, the Stanford research shows that in 65 percent of the cases websites exercised independent judgment to maintain the content unmoderated notwithstanding the government's suggestion.
After mulling this over for a few days, we propose the following:
There is no reason why the government cannot stand behind its finding that a given post is the product of, say, Russian or Chinese disinformation, or a call to violence, or some other explicit danger to public safety. But we need to know if the most powerful media in existence is subject to editorial influence from the secret preferences of bureaucrats and politicians. If so, this secret content moderation must end immediately or be radically overhauled.
A recent Los Angeles Times editorial recounted how The Baltimore Sun won a Pulitzer Prize this year for unearthing a scandal that forced the resignation of Baltimore’s mayor. The editorial also told of The Boston Globe’s Pulitzer finalist series on how that city’s public schools fail to help even its best students succeed. And yet, The Times revealed, dogged shoe-leather reporting has not been enough to stem the tide of pay cuts, layoffs and furloughs with these and other newspapers. Across the nation, newsroom employment dropped 23 percent from 2008 to 2018.
What to do about the disintegration of local journalism in the face of the digital dominance of Google, Facebook, and Twitter, and the loss of classified advertisement to digital platforms?
The Times recommends federal and state support, stating this could be done in way that wouldn’t compromise the independence of local news. We respectfully disagree. Taking government money would create the appearance of being in the bag for the powers that be, whether that is true or not.
A better solution is emerging – of all places – in Washington, D.C. The full Senate will soon consider a bill sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) that recently moved out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with strong bipartisan support from Sens. John Kennedy (R-LA) and Ted Cruz (R-TX). The Journalism Competition Preservation Act would grant news organizations with fewer than 1,500 full-time employees and non-network news broadcasters a narrow exemption from antitrust law to collectively negotiate payment for their content.
On the other side of the table would be companies that have at least 50 million U.S.-based users or subscribers or market cap greater than $550 billion. Translation – Google, Facebook, and Twitter.
Sen. Cruz had blown up an earlier version of this bill, which secured an agreement from Sen. Klobuchar that the bill would not extend antitrust protection to discussions of content moderation and censorship. That won him over and launched the bill with Republican support.
The bill as it exists now makes great sense. One reason local journalism is ailing is that Big Social Media has been displaying the fruits of local investigative reporting and writing for free. Journalists should be allowed to ask these companies to pony up for the use of their content.
That is one way to create a revenue stream for local journalism that won’t make the news dependent on handouts from government or grants from people and foundations with agendas.
“The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act is a needed correction to the free use of local news by digital giants,” said Rick Boucher, former U.S. Representative from Virginia, and Protect The 1st Senior Policy Advisor. “We wholeheartedly endorse it to protect the role of local journalists in exploring local issues and holding government accountable.”
Spotlight Now on SenatE
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Protect Reporters from Exploitative State Spying (PRESS) Act with unanimous, bipartisan support today.
This bill, long supported by Protect The 1st and civil liberties sister organizations, would protect journalists and their sources by granting a privilege to protect confidential news sources in federal legal proceedings. Former Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA), PT1st Senior Policy Advisor and the original author of an earlier version of this bill, said:
“Kudos to Rep. Jamie Raskin for shepherding this bill through the House in such a busy season. The PRESS Act passed unanimously today because courts continue to hold journalists in contempt and even jail them for refusing to reveal their confidential sources. The House today made a bold statement that this is not acceptable. I am heartened to see such a strong, bipartisan stand for a free and unintimidated press.”
PT1st general counsel Gene Schaerr, said:
“Today’s approval reflects the common sense behind this bill. Passage of this bill with unanimous, bipartisan support is a reaffirmation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of protection for a free press. If such a law works well for the vast majority of states, there is no excuse for the federal government to be so far behind the times.”
Former Rep. Bob Goodlatte who served as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and now as PT1st Senior Policy Advisor, said:
“When a bill passes so easily after being praised by two of my former colleagues, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler and Ranking Member Jim Jordan, that tells you something about the need for this bill to become law.
“The question now is will the U.S. Senate respond to the enthusiastic, bipartisan support displayed by the House? This bill has been sponsored in the past by now-Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Lindsey Graham. Enacting this bill into law would be a positive message that every senator can take home.”
When a federal district court upholds the First Amendment rights of a person or organization, can it enforce those rights in the future? The answer by The Protect the First Foundation before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit is a resounding “yes.”
The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) of Tampa runs ads on its vehicles and bus shelters but prohibits ads that “promote a religious faith or religious organization.” When Young Israel of Tampa, an Orthodox synagogue, tried to place an ad for its “Chanukah on Ice” event, HART rejected those ads under its no-religion policy.
A district court came down on the side of Young Israel on First Amendment grounds and issued a permanent order or injunction forbidding HART from “rejecting any advertisement on the ground that the advertisement primarily promotes a religious faith or religious organization.” HART appealed, arguing that the district court’s injunction was an abuse of its powers and that HART’s advertising policy was constitutional.
The PT1st Foundation counter, filed Wednesday evening, demonstrates:
“First Amendment rights are fundamental rights essential to every other form of freedom. As a result, First Amendment rights warrant special protection. Because courts cannot enjoin conduct and do not ‘strike down’ unconstitutional laws, a court cannot adequately protect First Amendment interests without including prohibitions against future illegal conduct in its injunction.
“Without such preventative relief, governments would be free to repeat the same constitutional violation in the future. Any resolution of this case that fails to prevent future harm does not adequately vindicate the First Amendment.”
PT1st believes remedies to violations of the First Amendment should be as enduring as our right to free speech.
Our senior policy advisors and former congressmen, Bob Goodlatte and Rick Boucher, wrote an important piece on the need for federal law to protect journalists.
Should the government be free to dig into the records, notes, phone logs and emails of journalists or subpoena them into federal court to catch a leaker?