News Gathering

Crackdown on Leakers From Obama to Trump Chills A Free Press

Crackdown on Leakers From Obama to Trump Chills A Free Press

Journalists often publish information taken from leaked classified documents. Does the First Amendment protect them from prosecution for doing so? The Supreme Court has not considered that exact question, but Bartnicki v. Vopper suggests that journalists would indeed be protected as long as they were innocent recipients of the information—that is, they did not participate in or encourage the illegal activity of leaking classified information. Under the Espionage Act of 1917, the government would have to prove that the journalists published with the intent to hurt the United States, a requirement that would likely be difficult to satisfy. The leakers, of course, do risk prosecution, and journalists can be ensnared in an investigation to discover the names of the confidential sources who provided the information to them. Aggressive prosecution of leakers began under President Obama – with the most famous case, Edward Snowden, still in hiding in Russia – and continues under President Trump. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is rumored to even be considering a lie detector test to ferret out leakers.

April 18, 2018 Below the Fold, Leaks, News Gathering
Can President Trump and Other Public Officials Block Dissenting Voices on Social Media?

Can President Trump and Other Public Officials Block Dissenting Voices on Social Media?

President Trump blocked some of his critics on his Twitter handle, @realDonaldTrump, prompting a lawsuit arguing that such action violated their First Amendment rights. The lawsuit raised questions about the use of social media sites by public officials. Clearly, a personal website of a public figure is not subject to First Amendment restrictions, and so the site operator can block users. But a site run by the government, or run by a public official for his public business, would likely be categorized as a limited public forum protected by the First Amendment. Officials would violate the First Amendment if they discriminated against posters because of their viewpoint. But is @realDonaldTrump a personal site or an official government site? That’s a key question. He started the account in 2009, when he was a private citizen, but now uses it to share policy statements and his views on public issues.

April 4, 2018 Access, Below the Fold, News Gathering
The Limits of Transparency and FOIA Under Trump

The Limits of Transparency and FOIA Under Trump

Transparency is often an attractive buzzword for new administrations, but following through on open access has proven difficult. President Obama’s record on transparency and the federal  Freedom of Information Act was less than stellar. In the opening months of his term, President Trump has shown a similar wariness in allowing private citizens to access public records. Activists are challenging this resistance on the streets and in the courts. As we ready for Sunshine Week 2018, we look at the the successes and setbacks of FOIA.

March 14, 2018 Below the Fold, FOIA, News Gathering
Still taken from the film The Post

“The Post,” Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks—What They Teach Us About Freedom of the Press

The new movie, The Post, with Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks dramatizes a pivotal moment in U.S. history when the press was threatened and almost silenced if not for the brave decisions of publishers willing to fight for press freedom.The Pentagon Papers also known as the “Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force” were commissioned in 1967 to study U.S. decision-making before and during the conflict in Vietnam. In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg, a consultant who had worked on the 7,000-page classified study, leaked it to The New York Times and The Washington Post. The Nixon Administration sought to stop both papers from publishing stories based on the leaked documents. In New York Times v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled against prior restraint and allowed publication to move forward. We look at lessons from the film, the importance of the case and what prior restraint means.

January 2, 2018 News Gathering, Prior Restraints
First Amendment: By the Numbers

First Amendment: By the Numbers

With controversies swirling daily about the freedom of speech and press, what is the state of public support for the First Amendment? Several nonprofit organizations—the Newseum First Amendment Institute, the Brookings Institution, and the Knight Foundation—conduct surveys of public attitudes about the freedom of expression. Most recently, the Newseum Institute has also initiated a First Amendment Report Card, enlisting a[Read More…]

Gene Policinski, Chief Operating Officer, Newseum Institute and First Amendment Center of Newseum Institute

Gene Policinski Commentary – To Trump On NBC ‘License’ Tweet: NO!

The Newseum Institute’s First Amendment expert, Gene Policinski, originally published this commentary on the Newseum blog, and have given First Amendment Watch permission to reprint. There’s only one appropriate, spirit-of-freedom response to the “Trump tweet” on Wednesday asking when it’s “appropriate” for the government to punish NBC News for a story the president didn’t like: NEVER. And yes, the repetition of “appropriate” and[Read More…]

October 12, 2017 Below the Fold, News Gathering, Threats
Criticism Escalates Over President Trump’s Threats To Revoke Network Licenses

Criticism Escalates Over President Trump’s Threats To Revoke Network Licenses

October 17, 2017: FCC Chair Stands By First Amendment In a rebuke to President Trump’s threats to revoke broadcast licenses, FCC Chair Ajit Pai said at telecom law event, “The FCC under my leadership will stand for the First Amendment, and under the law the FCC does not have the authority to revoke a license of a broadcast station based on[Read More…]

October 12, 2017 News Gathering, Top Stories
The President’s Mar-A-Lago Retreat and Presidential Access

The President’s Mar-A-Lago Retreat and Presidential Access

Throughout history, U.S. Presidents have relied on private retreats to recharge during the trials of governing. George H.W. Bush had a “Summer White House” in Kennebunkport, Maine, FDR  built a “Little White House” in Warm Springs, Georgia, and Harry S. Truman had his own Florida “Little White House” before President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach. Mar-a-Lago, once the Marjorie Merriweather Post estate, is[Read More…]

October 9, 2017 Access, News Gathering
United States Supreme Court Building

Reporter’s Privilege: Shaky Protection for Confidentiality of Sources

Reporter’s privilege is the right asserted by journalists to keep their sources confidential in the face of a court order to reveal the information. The U.S. Supreme Court considered that issue only once, in 1972, in the case of Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665. The Court in a 5-4 decision said that reporters did not enjoy a First Amendment[Read More…]

August 29, 2017 Legal Cases, News Gathering, Subpoenas
The End of White House Press Briefings?

The End of White House Press Briefings?

Truncated, often truculent, and now off-camera, White House Press Briefings no longer provide a link to the Administration’s thinking, so what’s their worth?

July 12, 2017 Access, Leaks, News Gathering