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Press Freedom under attack in America

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A man fired a shot from an AR-style rifle into the FOX13 Memphis newsroom on Tuesday making this the latest attack on journalism in America. This is part of a disturbing and growing trend.

According to reporters who work at the outlet, there were no injuries.

FOX13 reported that at around 11:30 a.m. a man approached an employee wanting to talk, and showed the employee that he was carrying a gun. The employee ended the conversation and left, after which the man walked to the front of the building and fired a single shot. The gunman then fled and barricaded himself in a nearby restaurant.

Traditionally journalists have been trained to stand on the sidelines and not insert themselves into the stories they cover. But now, more often, that’s becoming impossible.

Reporters are finding themselves thrust into the middle of the maelstrom as they are being targeted with online harassment, threats of physical violence, actual physical violence, public name calling and being arrested for doing their jobs.

Last February in East Palestine, Ohio, a reporter was pushed to the ground, handcuffed and arrested for trespassing while covering a news conference about the derailment of a train carrying toxic chemicals in Ohio.

Evan Lambert was arrested in the gymnasium of an elementary school in East Palestine where Gov. Mike DeWine was giving an update about the accident. He was held for about five hours before being released from jail.

Lambert was covering a hazardous materials train derailment where the Ohio state response was botched and put nearby residents in danger.

At the news conference, authorities said sampling had shown air quality in the area was safe and residents could return home. That was later shown not to be true.

Other cases of reporters being harassed abound. In the days after the Robb Elementary mass shooting in Uvalde, local and state authorities refused to answer direct questions about the total failure to respond to the gunman in a timely manner.

The Uvalde Police Department reportedly called on motorcycle groups to block journalists from covering public events related to the mass shooting. Uvalde police officers and members of the biker groups threatened to arrest journalists if they left a designated area across the street from the mortuary. Some of the bikers also physically obstructed cameras within those designated areas and followed reporters while demanding that journalists "stay on the sidewalk."

It was only through the reporters’ efforts investigating the colossal incompetence of law enforcement in Uvalde the day of the mass shooting that the truth was eventually exposed and revealed that well-armed and armored law officers were cowering in the school hallway for over an hour while the victims died on the floor of a nearby classroom.

Don’t look to the Texas legislature to pass new laws to protect journalists and the public’s right to know.

Reporters coving the Texas Senate remain barred from the chamber floor under a COVID-19 policy implemented two years ago.

The Texas Tribune reported that media members were moved to the third floor of the Senate gallery in 2021 to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, while senators occupied the second floor. Press freedom advocacy groups said the decision was concerning and lacked sufficient explanation. This denial of access to Texas lawmakers comes as they debate and vote on bills that limit voting rights, demonize people who are transgender and support corporate tax breaks.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, which documents press freedom violations at the national, state and local levels, tracks journalist arrests, assaults, border stops, camera and equipment seizures, surveillance orders, subpoenas and more. In recent years, press freedom in the U.S. has fallen as low as 48th in 2019, based on rankings of 190 countries and regions by Reporters Without Borders (also known as Reporters Sans Frontières, or RSF). But the nation has slowly reversed that trend, ranking 42nd in the 2022 index. Two dozen press freedom groups and journalism organizations monitor assaults on press freedoms, and the statistics it collects are used in RSF’s annual report. As it states: “When journalists are obstructed, so is the public’s right to be informed and hold power to account.”

Why are reporters being attacked more often? What impact is this having on reporters’ ability to gather news? What can be done to protect journalists?


Kirstin McCudden, Vice President of Editorial for Freedom of the Press Foundation, overseeing the organization’s editorial strategy and standards. She’s also managing editor of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, a project documenting press freedom violations in the United States in partnership between FPF and the Committee to Protect Journalists. Twitter: @TrackerKK

"The Source" is a live call-in program airing Mondays through Thursdays from 12-1 p.m. Leave a message before the program at (210) 615-8982. During the live show, call 833-877-8255, email thesource@tpr.org or tweet@TPRSource.

*This interview will be recorded on Wednesday May 3.

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David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi