BuzzFeed Beats Back Subpoena
And VOA gets a bigoted new boss
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 61st issue of Pressing and it’s great to have you with me. Please send me feedback, thoughts, suggestions, and tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Voice of America’s Frightening New Boss
Voice of America, the editorially-independent-but-state-run media outlet, has been under assault all year. Since this newsletter has closely followed the Trumpification of VOA, I don’t think I need to rehash all that’s happened. (You can read about the most recent episode here).
But, as Trump’s tenure is coming to a close, there was a troubling new development: While a judge recently blocked conservative filmmaker and U.S. Agency of Global Media head Michael Pack, from breaching VOA’s editorial firewall, Pack seemingly found a workaround.
NPR: Trump Appointee Unconstitutionally Interfered With VOA, Judge Rules (David Folkenflik)
Last week, Pack pushed out VOA’s interim director and appointed Robert Reilly as the new VOA director, which happens to be an editorial position.
The Washington Post: Voice of America interim director pushed out by Trump-appointed overseer in final flurry of actions to assert control (Paul Farhi)
Reilly, a onetime VOA director is also an ideological extremist and bigot. He’s the author of the brazenly homophobic book “Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything” and the Islamophobic tome “The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis.” Not only has the firewall been breached, but Trumpism has found a way to infiltrate one of America’s best foreign policy tools.
The Atlantic: The Voice of America Will Sound Like Trump (Anne Applebaum)
Former VOA director Amanda Bennett, who resigned in June after Pack’s appointment, wrote a damning op-ed in The Washington Post about her successor this week.
“Expecting to be fired, I resigned as VOA director in June. Normally, I never would — and never have in previous positions — spoken out against my successor. A new administration has the right to a new director, even one with whom I might disagree.
But this is not normal. Reilly is a dangerous choice. His views are not conservative — they are extreme. As head of one of America’s most powerful voices to the world, he risks causing reputational damage that will be hard to repair.”
She then brought up his book and asked a harrowing question:
“Imagine how Reilly’s views will be greeted by governments in countries that ostracize or even murder gays.”
On his Islamophobia, she said:
“Reilly has every right to hold and even promulgate such views — just not at the head of America’s news organization.”
Joe Biden has pledged to replace Michael Pack when he takes office in January, but there might be additional challenges in removing Reilly. A new amendment in the defense spending bill, the NDAA, requires the USAGM chief to get the approval of a not-yet-established board in order to remove the VOA director.
Writing in The Washington Post, media columnist Margaret Sullivan cast some skepticism that bolstering the USAGM will be a top priority for Joe Biden when he assumes office.
President-elect Joe Biden has indicated that he’ll replace Pack… But will repairing VOA and its sibling organizations really be a top priority for the Biden administration? Given the range of problems Biden is inheriting, that’s hard to imagine. And the broken pieces won’t be so easy to put back together, given everything that’s gone on.”
One of the most impressive signs that VOA has thus far resisted its rightward lurch is that it is still steadfastly covering its own scandal. And it’s not censoring any of the unsavory details about its new director.
Perhaps, that’s how we’ll know when the whole thing’s gone bad. Pay attention to how VOA covers itself, which will surely be in the news for months to come.
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BuzzFeed Beats Back ICE
Earlier this month, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), issued a subpoena to try to get BuzzFeed News to divulge one of its sources. BuzzFeed turned around and reported the extraordinary step as news:
BuzzFeed News: The Trump Administration Is Trying To Force BuzzFeed News To Divulge Its Sources With A Subpoena (Hamed Aleaziz)
"BuzzFeed News emphatically rejects any requests for information about possible sources and methods of our reporting,” BuzzFeed’s top editor Mark Schoofs said in a statement. “We do not confirm or discuss confidential sources, and this subpoena is an outrageous overreach by the federal government. It's fundamentally at odds with the US Constitution and will not have any impact on our journalism." CPJ called the subpoena “disgraceful.”
But luckily, the agency backed off last week, alerting BuzzFeed it would not enforce the subpoena. Still, BuzzFeed is calling on DHS to fully rescind the order.
“Until ICE withdraws its subpoena completely, its stance toward the free press remains the same: anti-American, unconstitutional, and grossly inappropriate,” BuzzFeed News spokesperson Matt Mittenthal said.
Across the Country
BuzzFeed News: ICE Is Trying To Force BuzzFeed News To Divulge Its Sources (Hamed Aleaziz)
Capital Gazette: Congress passes bill authorizing fallen journalist memorial in D.C., includes honors to murdered Capital Gazette staff members (Brooks Dubose)
CNET: Edward Snowden asks Trump to pardon Julian Assange (Laura Hautala)
Forbes: A Record Number Of Journalists Were Arrested In 2020, Most Covering Racial Unrest (Jemima McEvoy)
The Hill: Connecticut's largest newspaper loses its newsroom (Celine Castronuovo)
Mother Jones: How a Private Prison Company’s Defamation Suit Against One of Its Critics Backfired (Madison Pauly)
The New York Times: Arizona Man Who Conspired to Threaten Journalists Gets 16 Months in Prison (Azi Paybarah)
Stars and Stripes: Defense bill would continue Stars and Stripes' funding (Corey Dickstein)
Around the World
Bloomberg: China Authorities Detain Bloomberg News Beijing Staff Member (Reto Gregori and Madeleine Lim)
Deutsche Welle: Journalists end up in jail for reporting on coronavirus crisis
The Financial Times: Polish media deal revives fears over press freedom (James Shotter)
The Hill: Al Jazeera journalist files hack and leak suit against Saudi Arabian and UAE crown princes (Maggie Miller)
The Washington Post: A murder in Veracruz: Slain journalist’s story a portrait of a violent, corrupt era in Mexico (Dana Priest, Paloma de Dinechin, Nina Lakhani and Veronica Espinosa)
Adweek: Donald Trump’s Twitter Account Is in Jeopardy (Scott Nover)
The New York Times: Facebook says it will remove coronavirus vaccine misinformation. (Mike Isaac)
The Wall Street Journal: In India, Facebook Fears Crackdown on Hate Groups Could Backfire on Its Staff (Jeff Horwitz and Newley Purnell)
Columns and Opinions
The Financial Times: Journalist Maria Ressa on holding President Duterte to account (Maria Ressa)
The Financial Times: Democracy cannot function without media freedom (Stef Blok)
The New York Times: A Powerful Reporter Got Away With Sexual Misconduct for Decades. His Paper, and His Union, Looked the Other Way. (Ben Smith)
The Washington Post: Trump is leaving press freedom in tatters. Biden can take these bold steps to repair the damage. (Margaret Sullivan)
Around the Press Freedom Community
Knight Institute: Knight Institute Asks Mayor Lightfoot to Stop Blocking Critics from Her Official Facebook Page
Knight Institute: A First Amendment Agenda for the New Administration
Open Society Justice Initiative: Federal Court Orders U.S. Intelligence Agencies to Explain Withholding of Khashoggi Tape and Report
RCFP: US House of Representatives passes Open Courts Act with bipartisan support (Melissa Wasser)
Reporters Without Borders: RSF and 60 other organizations call for an EU anti-SLAPP directive
UN News: World Press Freedom Conference spotlights dangerous job of separating ‘truth from falsehood’
The Washington Post: The Washington Post joins other news organization in new Forbidden Stories investigation
The Washington Post: The Washington Post Press Freedom Partnership announces #FreeAustinTice awareness campaign
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