News Gathering

Lata Nott, Executive Director of the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center

Lata Nott: The Biggest Threat To Democracy Might Be The Loss Of Local Newspapers

The Newseum Institute’s First Amendment expert, Lata Nott, originally published this op-ed on the Newseum blog and in local newspapers across the country, and has given First Amendment Watch permission to reprint.         If you’re reading this column in your local newspaper, congratulations!  Just by skimming your eyeballs over this page, whether it’s in print or online, you’re[Read More…]

June 19, 2018 News Gathering, Press, Top Stories
Jeff Sessions

Crackdown on Leakers Ramps Up With NYT Journalist Targeted in Leaks Investigation

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.

June 13, 2018 Below the Fold, Leaks, News Gathering
Superior Court Judge Netti C. Vogel (screenshot from Providence Journal video 2012)

Newspaper Challenging RI Judge In Federal Court For Banning Juror Contact

June 12, 2018: Newspaper Seeking Clarification On Free Press Principles The Providence Journal is moving a First Amendment complaint against a Superior Court judge to federal court for declaring a ban on reporter contact with jurors after a trial. The newspaper’s lawyers, the state Superior Court, and the judge could not reach an agreement about reporter’s access to jurors and[Read More…]

Plaintiffs Unblocked By @realDonaldTrump; Justice Department Appeals Ruling

Plaintiffs Unblocked By @realDonaldTrump; Justice Department Appeals Ruling

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. On May 23, 2018, U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald ruled that Trump may not legally block users on Twitter because doing so violates a right to free speech; @realDonaldTrump unblocked the plaintiffs but not others who are blocked and the Justice Department is appealing the ruling. Meanwhile, other cases are percolating through the courts as well, with one to be heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit involving a citizen who was blocked by a public official in Virginia from her Facebook account.

June 5, 2018 Access, Below the Fold, News Gathering
Sarah Huckabee Sanders

Reporters Persona Non Grata at White House & Other Executive Branch Agencies

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump often called out news organizations for what he said was irresponsible reporting and excluded some of their reporters from his rallies. After assuming office, the President and his staff have continued to limit the access of some news organizations, leading to a larger issue under the First Amendment. The larger question remains: Can reporters be barred from news conferences because the Trump administration objects to coverage?

May 23, 2018 Access, Below the Fold, 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.

May 18, 2018 News Gathering, Prior Restraints
Columnist and The Dallas Morning News Argue in Libel Case that First Amendment Protects Contested Opinion Piece– and Win

Columnist and The Dallas Morning News Argue in Libel Case that First Amendment Protects Contested Opinion Piece– and Win

Parents of Paul Tatum, a teenager who committed suicide, sued now retired columnist Steve Blow at The Dallas Morning News for libel in regards to a piece he wrote in 2010 about their son’s death. The court however decided the column was protected by the First Amendment as it was an opinion piece and therefore protected speech. “The publication of Blow’s column may have run afoul of certain journalistic, ethical, and other standards. But the standards governing the law of defamation are not among them,” wrote Justice Jeff Brown, a former Texas Supreme Court chief justice who handled the case in the Supreme Court.

May 17, 2018 Libel, News Gathering, Press, Top Stories
Are Media Blackouts the New Norm?

Are Media Blackouts the New Norm?

Gag orders or standard practice of administrations in transition?

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
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…]