Trickle Down Trumpiness

And other tales from America's press freedom crypt

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 as well as special features for paid subscribers.

This is the 37th issue of Pressing and it’s great to have you with me. Please send me feedback, thoughts, suggestions, and tips at sgnover@gmail.com.


Trump vs. the Press, Part I

PBS NewsHour White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor has been the consistent target of President Donald Trump’s verbal abuse. At a recent briefing, Trump said he found Alcindor’s question “threatening,” but really liked the “nice” question from friendly right-wing mouthpiece One America News Network.

The “nice” question, from OANN correspondent Jenn Pellegrino was about Trump’s high “ratings” and the television networks’ deliberation over whether or not to air the briefings live. (Very meta—and sycophantic!) Compare with Alcindor, who was berated just for quoting Trump’s comments back to him.

“Come on, come on,” Trump said, interrupting Alcindor. “Why don’t you people — why don’t you act in a little more positive? It’s always ‘get ya, get ya, get ya.’ And you know what? That’s why nobody trusts the media anymore.” He then insulted her because she no longer works at The New York Times and said, “Don’t be threatening.”

In an act of press corps solidarity, CNN correspondent Jeremy Diamond gave the microphone back to Alcindor after Trump skipped her follow-up question during a briefing the other day.

“Hard questions aren’t illegitimate questions and they shouldn’t be shut down,” Diamond tweeted. “Let’s keep up the solidarity in the White House press corps.”


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Trump vs. the Press, Part II

The nonprofit PEN America filed a lawsuit in October 2018 against President Trump for “using his power to punish and intimidate The Washington Post, CNN, NBC, the White House press corps and others who cover his administration.”

Last Tuesday, a federal judge in New York ruled the suit may proceed on limited claims, particularly the potential First Amendment violations over his revoking press credentials for journalists including CNN’s Jim Acosta and Playboy’s Brian Karem.

If you’ve read this newsletter since its inception, you’ve read a lot about Acosta and Karem. Here’s the gist of why Trump couldn’t get rid of them: 1. When the government opens a public forum like the White House briefing, it cannot discriminate about who can cover it, 2. in order to deny a security clearance or rescind a press credential, the government must grant due process to the reporter in question.

So what’s next?

From PEN America: “The case will now move into discovery, where plaintiffs will be able to obtain documents from the government to substantiate its claims that President Trump has sought to use the regulatory state to punish media he does not like.”


Trickle Down Trumpiness

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis banned Mary Ellen Klas, a Tallahassee-based reporter for both the Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times from his coronavirus briefing Saturday. A state spokesperson told her she could watch the briefing on a public access livestream. She had previously requested that briefings be held via videoconference for safety concerns.

“I asked for social distancing. I didn’t ask to be excluded,” she said.

The Miami Herald’s editorial board chastised the governor. “DeSantis, a lawyer, should also know a First Amendment violation when he sees one,” the board wrote. “A 2015 judicial ruling by the Seventh Circuit found that, ‘A public official who tries to shut down an avenue of expression of ideas and opinions through actual or threatened imposition of government power or sanction is violating the First Amendment.’”

Sound familiar? When Trump treats reporters like garbage, leaders around the country follow suit.


What Else Is New?


Your Resource for All Things India

Just a quick plug: My best friend Aman Thakker, an adjunct fellow at CSIS, has a fantastic newsletter called Indialogue that just re-launched. It’s your one-stop shop for all things India. Check it out here and subscribe!


Thanks for reading Pressing today and always. Like what you read and want to support me? Consider a paid subscription here. I’ll see you next Tuesday! Send tips and feedback to sgnover@gmail.com.

Trump's Briefing Fiasco

And why the TV networks should stop airing them live and unchecked.

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 as well as special features for paid subscribers.

This is the 36th issue of Pressing and it’s great to have you with me. Please send me feedback, thoughts, suggestions, and tips at sgnover@gmail.com.


Why Cable Networks Should Think Twice before They Air Trump’s Task Force Briefings Live

For the last two weeks—or what has felt like an eternity—President Donald Trump and his White House Coronavirus Task Force have given regular, if not daily “briefings” about the state of the government’s response. These sessions have gotten significantly worse in recent days.

We’ve seen more of Trump and less of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci, a.k.a. the only adult in the room. Beyond that, these sessions have been at best unhelpful and at worst dangerous.

Saint Thomas Chloroquinas

Trump has repeatedly pushed unproven medical advice about hydroxychloroquine, a family of old antimalarial drugs, as a potential treatment for COVID-19. While there have been opinion pieces in The Wall Street Journal and commentary on Fox News supporting Trump’s hypothesis, this is not currently an FDA-approved treatment for COVID-19. Because of Trump’s crazy talk, there is a shortage of these important drugs which people actually need for diseases and disorders like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. And there have been directly dire consequences too. Three people in Nigeria have been admitted to a hospital for chloroquine poisoning and, in Arizona, a man has died after ingesting chloroquine phosphate, a parasite treatment for fish. His wife is currently hospitalized for doing the same and said the couple took the chloroquine phosphate after hearing Trump talk about the effects of the medication form of chloroquine.

A Bully of the Press

Trump has consistently bashed journalists throughout this process. On March 13, Trump insulted PBS NewsHour correspondent Yamiche Alcindor, saying she asked a “nasty question” for inquiring whether he takes responsibility for disbanding the National Security Council’s pandemic office. On Friday, Trump completely unloaded on NBC News correspondent Peter Alexander after Alexander asked whether Trump was touting unproven drugs and giving people false hope. “What do you say to Americans who are scared?” Alexander asked during the exchange. “I say that you are a terrible reporter,” Trump replied. “That's what I say.” He continuing by insulting Alexander, NBC, and its parent company Comcast. On Monday, he called reporters “angry, angry people.” And his Twitter feed has been a hotbed of anti-press tweets.

Cable Networks Need to Stop Going Live to the Briefing

We’re living through trying times and there’s so much at stake. Every day, Americans are dying and many more are getting sick from the coronavirus. We want to hear from our political leaders. Some politicians, including some governors like New York’s Andrew Cuomo, have been giving helpful, realistic, rational, and even comforting briefings. This is not what Trump has been doing. He’s been peddling misinformation, attacking reporters, joking about the disease, joking about the deep state, using racist dogwhistles like calling the coronavirus the Chinese virus, bragging that he’s a “wartime president,” and insulting his political enemies like Senator Mitt Romney who is in quarantine. Above all, Trump is confusing the American people.

We are dealing with an unprecedented global crisis and we, as Americans, have a leadership vacuum. Our president is too narcissistic, too uncouth, too callous to care what’s accurate and what’s not, what’s appropriate and what’s not, what’s helpful and what’s dangerous.

I’m not the only person to make this argument. Smart thinkers like The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan and The Atlantic’s James Fallows have voiced similar opinions. Here’s what I believe: It’s frankly irresponsible for television networks to air unedited, unchecked statements from the president because his words have an immediate and negative effect on the country’s preparedness for this crisis. The news media is doing the public, its audience, a disservice when it shows Trump live and unchecked.

Trump is a performer. Cut the live feeds and maybe he’ll cut some of the crap. Either way, he cannot be trusted at a time of national crisis: He’s proven that time and again. It’s time to figure out whose words may save lives, and whose words may cost lives.


Do you love Pressing and want to support it? If you are able and interested, please consider a paid subscription here! I produce this letter on my own dime and in my own time.


New RCFP Recommendations

The Reporters Committee published recommendations for journalists, legislators and courts to “ensure access to government information and proceedings is protected” during the coronavirus response effort. The resources focus on access to open meetings and public records, newsgathering in a time of social distancing and shelter in place policies, and judicial transparency. You can read the announcement here and access the recommendations here.


What Else is New?

Pressing: Coronavirus Edition

Stay safe, everybody.

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 as well as special features for paid subscribers.

This is the 35th issue of Pressing and it’s great to have you with me. Please send me feedback, thoughts, suggestions, and tips at sgnover@gmail.com.

Well, This Looks Bleak

I’m safe. I’m home. I’m with my parents, and working out of my childhood bedroom. I didn’t plan for this. I didn’t think we’d get to this point. We got to this point. Things are pretty bleak.

Note #1: If you’re reading this—beyond all else—please know that it’s vital that you self-isolate and practice social distancing. Wash your hands with soap and water. Sanitize surfaces before you come in contact with them. The more you can restrict your movement, the safer everyone will be. The quicker we act the quicker we can save lives and control this pandemic.

Note #2: Most of you are working hard at your jobs as this crisis rages on. At the same time you might be balancing family responsibilities, stressing about finances and worried about friends and relatives. Remember to take care of yourself and your own physical and mental health.

This is especially true for journalists, who report tough news—about isolation and sickness and death. Please take care of yourself and reach out if you need anything.


Do you love Pressing and want to support it? Do you want to read a little more every week? If you are able and interested, please consider a paid subscription here!


Okay, life is insane and I haven’t stopped working, but here is a round-up of all the ways the coronavirus outbreak has affected press freedom and the safety of journalists:

  • The White House sent a memo to the White House Correspondents Association, saying, "When possible, members of the press seeking information are encouraged to call or email press staff as opposed to physically entering the Lower or Upper Press Offices,” THR’s Jeremy Barr tweeted. Another new rule: “Members of the press who do not have a seat on the updated seating chart or who do not participate in the President’s In-House Pool will not be permitted access to the White House Complex.”

  • There were fewer journalists in the room Monday and they sat a little further apart, too.

  • Yesterday was National Freedom of Information Day and both CPJ and RCFP called for government transparency during the coronavirus outbreak.

  • Poynter’s Al Tompkins and Sidney Tompkins wrote about 9 ways journalists can fight stress from covering the coronavirus.

  • CPJ has an incredibly comprehensive safety toolkit for reporters covering the coronavirus—in eight languages! AIR Media also has guidelines.

  • CPJ’s Ahmed Zidan published a Q&A with Lotus Ruan, a researcher at Citizen Lab about Chinese social media censorship around Covid-19.

  • Six employees at CBS News have tested positive for Covid-19, including foreign correspondent Seth Doane. At least one employee at NBC News has as well.

  • Wired’s Noam Cohen reports on how Wikipedia is tracking, writing about and fact-checking the outbreak.

  • Coronavirus closed our newsroom but has not slowed the journalists, Audrey Cooper writes in the San Francisco Chronicle. Similarly, The New York Times reported on “the newsroom at the center of the pandemic,” a.k.a. The Seattle Times.

  • Many news outlets are providing coronavirus coverage for free, taking down paywalls for vital information, as my Adweek colleague Sara Jerde reports.

  • The New York TimesBen Smith writes that social media platforms have actually been pretty good and responsible during the outbreak.

  • In Adweek, I wrote about how Snapchat might be the most reliable social network during the coronavirus panic, just by the nature of the platform’s design.

  • I also reported that many of Silicon Valley’s largest firms — including Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit, Twitter, YouTube — all put their name to a joint statement vowing to work together to root out misinformation and fraud on their platforms in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Earlier this month, I reported on the platforms’ struggles with misinformation.

  • The New York Times’ Javier C. Hernández reports on the Chinese government’s propaganda around its own coronavirus response.


And now for non-coronavirus news…

RCFP Releases Local News Findings

The RCFP released its findings from the 45 proposals it received for its Local Legal Initiative. Here are its top takeaways:

  • Facing dwindling revenues and shrinking staff, local newsrooms are struggling, and legal resources for affirmative access work are often the first to be cut.

  • Reporters are increasingly confronting a culture of secrecy in local and state governments that shields data, documents, and other public records, especially in the law enforcement context.

  • Journalists are frequently shut out of public meetings and court proceedings, making it difficult for them to report on government entities and the judicial system.

  • Members of the news media, government, and the public need training and education about the public’s right to access information.

  • Some journalists and newsrooms reported that they would feel more confident pursuing investigative reporting if they had access to an attorney to review sensitive stories before they are published and provide defensive support when reporters are served with subpoenas or threatened with lawsuits.

Elsewhere in the News:


Thanks for reading Pressing today and always. Like what you read and want to support me? Consider a paid membership here. Otherwise, I’ll see you next Tuesday! Send tips and feedback to sgnover@gmail.com.

Why Reporters Should Vote

And other fairy tales about journalism.

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 as well as special features for paid subscribers.

This is the 34th issue of Pressing and it’s great to have you with me. Please send me feedback, thoughts, suggestions, and tips at sgnover@gmail.com.

Why Reporters Should Vote

In America, voting is a right: We have the right to vote for representatives in government. It’s not mandatory that citizens vote, but voting is seen as a civic duty. Of course, an abstention for many can be as powerful or as meaningful as a vote. But each American citizen should make that decision for him or herself.

In journalism, we often fight misconceptions about our industry purveyed by outsiders and fellow journalists. One of the most bizarre misconceptions is that journalists should not vote.

I recognize that political neutrality—or the pursuit of it—is a staple of newspaper journalism. I say neutrality instead of objectivity for a reason: Neutrality simply means that journalists should, in many cases, remain neutral. They shouldn’t stay neutral when it comes to sorting out fact versus fiction. They shouldn’t be neutral when it comes to calling out abuses of power. But, in covering electoral politics, reporting information should come before promoting individual policies, parties or candidates. It’s all about asserting independence of thought, not pretending to be a neutral force devoid of bias… but not letting those biases get in the way of reporting.

So this New York Times article really irked me. In it, Peter Baker, the Times’ chief White House correspondent says the following:

As reporters, our job is to observe, not participate, and so to that end, I don’t belong to any political party, I don’t belong to any non-journalism organization, I don’t support any candidate, I don’t give money to interest groups and I don’t vote.

I try hard not to take strong positions on public issues even in private, much to the frustration of friends and family. For me, it’s easier to stay out of the fray if I never make up my mind, even in the privacy of the kitchen or the voting booth, that one candidate is better than another, that one side is right and the other wrong.

I won’t get much further into the neutrality or both sides-ism debate, but I think it’s important to dispel the myth that journalists cannot or should not vote. Here’s what I tweeted in response:

Just vote. Voting isn't an act of journalism, it's an act of citizenship. If you can't separate your world as a journalist vs. as a citizen, you should probably re-evaluate your personal relationship with work. You can vote without publicly supporting a party, giving money, etc.

I don't outwardly support candidates, but I often do choose to disavow the ones who bash the press. I don't donate money to individual campaigns, political causes or PACs. I am a registered Democrat in D.C. because you can't do much in the way of voting in D.C. otherwise.

We all have our own systems and mythos pertaining to our role as journalists. They all, at their best, go back to our role as independent forces able to discern fact from fiction and report on the news. But if you want to vote, vote. You as a citizen can have your say.

A lot of journalism—and a lot of being a journalist for that matter—is confusing to the general public. Pretending to be an opinion-less, robotic scribe does no one any good. But it also is unnecessary. Step #1 in breaking down the barriers between the public and the press is through demonstrating that we, too, are humans. We, too, go home from our jobs and live our lives outside of the quirks of our work. We, too, go to parent-teacher meetings and play rec sports and eat and breathe and sleep and, yes, sometimes we vote.

Let the sanctimony fade away, and just vote if you want to vote.


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Devin Nunes Sues the Washington Post

Well, U.S. Congressman Devin Nunes is at it again. Nunes, a Republican from California who serves as ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, is suing the Washington Post over this article that he claims is libelous in nature. The story concerns a briefing that senior intelligence official Shelby Pierson delivered to lawmakers in mid-February regarding Russia’s interest in seeing President Donald Trump re-elected. The story claims that Trump learned about the briefing from Nunes.

“I never talked to President Trump about (former Acting Director of National Intelligence) Admiral (Joseph) Maguire, I didn’t go to the White House, none of this was true, it was all invented by someone,” Nunes said on Fox News on Sunday, before the lawsuit was filed. “I don’t know if the Washington Post was conspiring with the Democrats to make up this fake news story, but they’ll have a chance to meet me next week in federal court.”

Note that Nunes declined to comment for the original story, but now is suing the Post. The Fresno Bee notes that this is the seventh defamation or conspiracy lawsuit filed by Nunes in the last year.

In the last year, he has also sued: a stone fruit farmer, research firm Fusion GPS, Twitter, a fake cow, The Fresno Bee, Esquire, and CNN, among others.

He’s asking for $250,350,000 from the Post, which he thinks is a tool for billionaire owner Jeff Bezos to influence elections. (It’s not).

What Else is New?

  • Nunes isn’t the only litigious politician. President Trump’s reelection campaign sued The New York Times over an op-ed (yes, an op-ed). Believe it or not, it’s the first time Trump has sued an American outlet since he took office (he’s threatened many times and sued before taking office.) Read it in the Times here.

  • Politico’s Ryan Lizza tweets: “Bernie [Sanders] would not allow a Washington Post reporter to ask him a question at a press conference today. Of the many norm-breaking Trump behaviors that have been adopted by other politicians/campaigns, treatment of the press is probably the most imitated. And it's not just Bernie.” (See my essay last week for more on that.)

  • In The New York Times: “The killing of [journalist] Jan Kuciak and his fiancée shocked Slovakia. The trial of the businessman accused of ordering it promises to expose corruption in high places. Read it here.

  • More in the Times: Brand-new media columnist Ben Smith (née BuzzFeed Ben) made a fiery debut, writing that what’s good for The Grey Lady isn’t necessarily good for the rest of the news industry. He says the Times has “swallowed so much of what was once called new media that the paper can read as an uneasy competition of dueling traditions: The Style section is a more polished Gawker, while the opinion pages reflect the best and worst of The Atlantic’s provocations.” My take: There aren’t too many fresh insights in media criticism and I felt like I learned something in every paragraph. Read it for yourself here.

  • From my new perch at Adweek: YouTube and parent company Google defeated PragerU, a conservative nonprofit, in a long-shot lawsuit claiming that the First Amendment applied to social platforms. An appeals court ruled that the First decidedly does not apply to private companies. But other threats loom for the platforms. Read my piece here.


Thanks for reading Pressing today and always. Like what you read and want to support me? Consider a paid membership here. Otherwise, I’ll see you next Tuesday! Send tips and feedback to sgnover@gmail.com.

What to Make of Bernie's Press Bashing

Are we headed to a general election where both candidates lambast the press?

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 as well as special features for paid subscribers.

This is the 33rd issue of Pressing and it’s great to have you with me. Please send me feedback, thoughts, suggestions, and tips at sgnover@gmail.com.

Bernie Sanders Rises: Could Press Bashing Be the Unifying Factor in the General Election?

In most ways, Bernie Sanders is nothing like Donald Trump. They hold diametrically opposed ideologies (if Trump has an ideology aside from narcissism). Sanders has had decades of government experience while Trump had none when he became president. Sanders has spent his entire career advocating for a strong welfare state while Trump has slashed tax rates for corporations. Off the top of my head I count three ways they overlap: 1.) they are New York born and bred, and grew up around the same time 2.) they have a populist appeal (whether or not you believe Trump embodies that appeal is a separate issue), and 3) they frequently bash the press.

This third piece is what interests me—and upsets me. And while one press-bashing president has given me more than enough fodder to write about for the last three years, we’re staring down the barrel at something altogether different: A general election where both candidates believe that the American press corps is a bad-faith actor. That scares me.

Trump’s attacks on the press are nothing new. You know his greatest hits, namely “enemy of the people” and “fake news” as well as specific jabs at specific journalists. His all-out war on facts and journalism have posed a unique threat to journalists in the United States—and sent a signal to foreign leaders that it’s okay to belittle press freedom.

So I feel uneasy fully comparing the two. They’re not the same. And Sanders’ press bashing is different. He often rails on the “corporate media” and whines about elite control of the media. He’s insinuated that Jeff Bezos controls The Washington Post and he’s received bad press because of his political critiques of Amazon. Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron shot back at this insinuation in August:

“Sen. Sanders is a member of a large club of politicians — of every ideology — who complain about their coverage,” Baron said. “Contrary to the conspiracy theory the senator seems to favor, Jeff Bezos allows our newsroom to operate with full independence, as our reporters and editors can attest.”

Much has been made in left-wing media criticism about the negative press coverage that Sanders received. Here’s The Intercept on the “media blackout” that “helped sink” his 2016 run. Here’s The New Republic and In These Times on MSNBC’s slant against Sanders in the Democratic primary. And the Associated Press documented that Bernie’s frustrations with the press have led him to “create his own”—relying on a web show, a podcast and a newsletter of his campaign’s own design to get the word out.

Sanders’ personal grievances with the press are long-standing and well-documented. And they’re probably not going to change any time soon. Should Sanders secure the Democratic nomination, I expect that Sanders may tone down his media criticisms and paint himself as a champion of the press and free speech—an easy task relative to Trump.

“The corporate media” is comprised of many different companies with corporate interests and it—if you can call it one monolithic thing—is well deserving of thoughtful, measured criticism. But while I think Sanders is thoughtful about a lot of different policy issues, I don’t think his media criticisms do our democracy—or the news business—any good. For now, I just worry about a general election where neither of the two major candidates understand that the journalists covering them are doing so on behalf of the American public.

In the Chicago Sun-Times Monday, columnist Lynn Sweet summed it up well:

“I am not comparing or equating Sanders to President Donald Trump and his war on facts. I am throwing a spotlight on a Sanders problem area. I get that Sanders uses the media as a foil. I get he has grievances stemming from reasonable beefs about his coverage. But that’s no excuse for Sanders’ drive to try to weaken the credibility of the U.S. press.”

Amen to that.


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About Big Tech


Violence in India

As President Trump visits India, violence has broken out in New Delhi surrounding India’s divisive Citizenship Amendment Act, which “fast-tracks citizenship for non-Muslim minorities from select countries.” So far, CNN reports that 9 are dead and 100 injured in the clashes. NDTV executive editor tweeted this morning the following:

And another reporter named Akash has been shot. (Graphic image here.)


Around the World

Hackers and Whistleblowers

In Press Freedom Advocacy


Thanks for reading Pressing today and always. Like what you read and want to support me? Consider a paid membership here. Otherwise, I’ll see you next Tuesday! Send tips and feedback to sgnover@gmail.com.

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