Defense One Reporter Harassed by CBP

It's part of a growing trend of incidents between border patrol and journalists in the U.S.

I’m Scott Nover. Welcome back to Pressing, a newsletter about press freedom. If you haven’t yet subscribed, you can do so here and receive this letter in your inbox every Tuesday morning.

This is the 15th issue of Pressing. Can you believe it? I was away last week for the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana, but hey, it’s a new year! Anyway, please keep the feedback coming and send thoughts, suggestions, and tips my way at sgnover@gmail.com.

Defense One Reporter Harassed by CBP at Dulles Airport

Returning to the United States from a trip to Denmark, Defense One editor Ben Watson was repeatedly interrogated by a Customs and Border Protection official screening his passport at Dulles International Airport. “You write propaganda, right?” the official asked repeatedly. Here’s how Watson recounted the conversation:

CBP officer, holding Watson’s passport: “What do you do?”

Watson: “Journalism.”

CBP officer: “So you write propaganda, right?”

Watson: “No.”

CBP officer: “You’re a journalist?”

Watson: “Yes.”

CBP officer: “You write propaganda, right?”

Watson: “No. I am in journalism. Covering national security. And homeland security. And with many of the same skills I used in the U.S. Army as a public affairs officer. Some would argue that’s propaganda.”

CBP officer: “You’re a journalist?”

Watson: “Yes.”

CBP officer: “You write propaganda, right?”

Watson waited five seconds. Then: “For the purposes of expediting this conversation, yes.”

CBP officer, a fourth time: “You write propaganda, right?”

Watson, again: “For the purposes of expediting this conversation, yes.”

CBP officer: “Here you go.” 

At that point, the CBP officer handed back the passport.

Watson filed a civil rights complaint against the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees CBP.

This is not an isolated incident. There’s been a conspicuous uptick in journalist harassment by border control officials as President Trump’s increasingly harsh border policies have taken effect. Recently, there have been run-ins between CBP and journalists from BuzzFeed News, freelancer Seth Harp, and British journalist James Dyer. Time reporter Vera Bergengruen said on Twitter that a similar thing happened to her last year.

And to add to the trouble, reports from the U.S.-Mexico border have been extremely troubling. In February, NPR and The Intercept each reported that journalists and lawyers alike were facing increased scrutiny from CBP agents. And in March, Vox revealed that the International Liaison Unit, an organization that coordinates intelligence sharing between the American and Mexican governments, “kept secret dossiers to monitor journalists covering migrant caravans.”

Anti-press sentiment from government quite obviously comes from the top: the president is an unrepentant basher of the press. Should we be at all surprised it’s putting the safety of journalists at risk?

Around the Globe

  • Reporters Without Borders took issue with a vague new Dutch law threatening two years in prison to any journalist who travels to an area “controlled by terrorist groups” without prior approval from the government.

  • Veby Indah, an Indonesian journalist covering the Hong Kong protests, was blinded in one eye by a rubber bullet, The Guardian reports. Meanwhile, the The Hong Kong Journalists Association filed a “judicial review” against Hong Kong police for their “unnecessary and excessive force” against journalists.

  • Police attacked journalists covering protests in Ecuador, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported.

The Washington Post Commemorates a Year Without Jamal Khashoggi

One year after the gruesome assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, which the Central Intelligence Agency has concluded was directed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the Post refuses to let pressure or public awareness wane.

“One year ago, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman thought he could end a debate with a bone saw,” Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt wrote in a statement. “He did succeed in ending a life and silencing a voice — that of our brave and distinguished colleague, Jamal Khashoggi. But as you will see here, the debate lives on, and the quests that animated Khashoggi’s life — for freedom, democracy, tolerance and greater understanding across cultures — cannot be so easily defeated.”

The Post published a series of essays on September 29, and you can read them all here:


That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next Tuesday! Send tips and feedback to sgnover@gmail.com. And… GO YANKEES!

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