Government & Communications

Attempts by governmental bodies to improve or impede communications with or between the citizenry.

CJR partners with journalism groups to launch the US Press Freedom Tracker

Columbia Journalism Review is partnering with the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Freedom of the Press Foundation to launch a website that documents press freedom incidents around the country. The site, US Press Freedom Tracker, is nonpartisan and captures incidents involving journalists such as arrests, border stops, equipment searches and seizures, leak prosecutions, physical attacks or threats, and subpoenas.

US Press Freedom Tracker, which launches Aug 2, gathers those data points from news stories and tips, and it’s free for all to use—journalists and news consumers alike. The Freedom of the Press Foundation is running the tracker’s day-to-day operations, with Peter Sterne, its senior reporter, serving as managing editor. The Committee to Protect Journalists provided the initial funding. CJR is among 20-some journalism and press freedom organizations supporting the tracker. Other supporters include the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Reporters Without Borders, Free Press, Investigative Reporters & Editors, Poynter, and the Society of Professional Journalists.

President Trump now has a "real news" program on his Facebook, hosted by his daughter-in-law

President Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, hosted a “real news” program on his official Facebook page July 30, ostensibly highlighting the president’s accomplishments that she argued have been overshadowed by “fake news.” The video, first reported by BuzzFeed, featured Lara Trump against a Trump-Pence background as she highlighted several stories, such as the president donating his salary each quarter, the country’s economic growth, and president’s interactions with military veterans and the police, which Trump’s daughter-in-law says she “bet[s] you haven’t heard about because there’s so much fake news out there.”

This program, which has more than 2 million views on Facebook, might be a partial fulfillment of rumors from the campaign of the development of a “Trump TV” program. As Vanity Fair reported, Trump was frustrated at the revenue he was generating for other media companies during the presidential campaign, and “win or lose,” those in the Trump campaign thought they had tapped into something. When asked in October by CNN if Trump was considering such a move, then-campaign CEO Steve Bannon only would say, “Trump is an entrepreneur.”

You don’t have to believe everything in that Seth Rich lawsuit. What’s been confirmed is bad enough.

[Commentary] Some of the Rod Wheeler/Seth Rich lawsuit is now undeniable: An outrageously bogus news story was known about, and apparently not discouraged, within the West Wing well before it was published. And once it was published, it become endless fodder for the president’s staunchest defenders: Alex Jones, Newt Gingrich and, more than any other person, Fox’s Sean Hannity — who stopped hammering away at it only when Rich’s parents implored him to stop trashing their son’s name. One of the ugliest falsehoods of the current political era may have been cheered on by the White House. At the very least, it got tacit approval. And that’s bad enough.

Computer and Internet Use Supplement to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey

As the next installment of a decades-long series of data collections, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) proposes to add 66 questions to the Census Bureau’s November 2017 Current Population Survey (CPS) to gather reliable data on computer and broadband (also known as highspeed Internet) use by US households. To aid the Administration’s plan to incorporate broadband in the upcoming infrastructure initiative and ensure the digital preparedness of the nation’s current and future workforce, NTIA data will reveal consumers’ changing demand for broadband, as well as their online activities.

The information may inform decisions about the scope and scale of the needed infrastructure, particularly in remote and sparsely populated areas where broadband deployment may be difficult and costly. It may also shed light on opportunities to increase digital literacy and use among Americans who currently use the Internet sparingly, if at all.

Written comments and recommendations for the proposed information collection should be sent within 30 days [email protected]

President Trump’s tweets keep being used against him in a court of law

President Donald Trump, your tweets are definitely being used against you in the court of law. The latest example is the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, which decided that Democratic attorneys general for 16 states can launch a court battle to try to force the Trump Administration to keep paying Obamacare subsidies that help make insurance more affordable for millions of lower-income people. The judges said it makes sense for states to launch a court fight to keep Obamacare subsidies because Republicans who don't like these subsidies are in power and because President Trump has tweeted he'd like to get rid of them. The lawsuit, the judges said, is "timely in light of accumulating public statements by high-level officials.”

This is becoming a pattern: Judges, when deciding how to rule in politically sticky situations, pull up Twitter and see what the president has said about it. In June, a federal appeals court ruled not to reinstate the president's' travel ban because he failed to prove the travel ban is so necessary for public safety that it's okay for it to temporarily curtail people's liberties. The court cited one of the president's tweets.

Senate bill would ease law enforcement access to overseas data

Sens introduced bipartisan legislation that would create a legal framework allowing law enforcement to access Americans' electronic communications in servers located in other countries. The International Communications Privacy Act from Sens Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Chris Coons (D-DE) would also require law enforcement to notify other countries of such data collection on their citizens in accordance with their laws. The bill also allows law enforcement to get communications regarding foreign nationals in certain instances.

“The potential global reach of government warrant authority has significant implications for multinational businesses and their customers. Failing to address this issue in a reasonable, comprehensive way will only continue to cause problems between American businesses and the U.S. government,” Sen Hatch said. Tech companies offered quick praise for the bill after its release.

Judge blocks Palin lawyers from questioning NYT reporters in defamation suit

A Manhattan federal judge has suspended discovery in a defamation lawsuit against The New York Times filed by former Gov Sarah Palin (R-AK), who is accusing the paper of writing an erroneous editorial that connected her to the shooting of former Rep Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) that left six people dead. In suspending discovery, Judge Jed Rakoff prevents Palin’s lawyers for now from questioning 23 New York Times reporters in an effort to prove the paper is biased against her. Rakoff said he'll rule by the end of August whether Palin's suit against the Times can proceed.

White House defends president’s effort to help write Trump Jr. statement

The White House defended President Donald Trump’s decision to help write his eldest son’s statement about his election-year meeting with a Russian lawyer, calling it “something any father would do.” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders disputed the fact that the statement to The New York Times contained inaccurate or misleading information, telling reporters it “is true.”

Her comments appeared to largely confirm a Washington Post report that the president was personally involved in drafting the statement, which could open him up to further legal scrutiny. But she appeared to deny that he dictated the statement to an assistant. “He certainly didn’t dictate. But he weighed in, offered suggestions like any father would do,” she said. Sanders criticized Democrats and the news media for being obsessed with the investigation into whether Trump associates colluded with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election.

White House denies Fox-Trump connection on Rich story

The White House denied that Fox News gave President Trump prior review of a story that raised conspiracy theories about the death of a Democratic National Committee staffer. “The president had no knowledge of the story and its completely untrue that he or the White House [had] involvement in the story,” said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. “Beyond that, this is ongoing litigation and I’d refer you to the actual parties involved, which are not the White House.”

Sanders also downplayed the revelation that outgoing White House press secretary Sean Spicer met with a Fox News contributor and a GOP donor on the story at the White House ahead of its publication. She framed that meeting as part of the press secretary's official duties in meeting with reporters on potential stories. “It doesn’t bother me that the press secretary would take a meeting with someone involved in the media about a story,” she said. “You guys come to us with stories all day. I’ve taken meetings with the majority of people in this room. I don’t always know the nature of the story of which you are coming to talk to me about, but it’s my job to talk to you.”

Behind Fox News' Baseless Seth Rich Story: The Untold Tale

The Fox News Channel and a wealthy supporter of President Trump worked in concert under the watchful eye of the White House to concoct a story about the death of a young Democratic National Committee aide, according to a lawsuit filed Aug 1. The explosive claim is part of the lawsuit filed against Fox News by Rod Wheeler, a longtime paid commentator for the news network. Wheeler alleges Fox News and the Trump supporter intended to deflect public attention from growing concern about the administration's ties to the Russian government. His suit charges that a Fox News reporter created quotations out of thin air and attributed them to him to propel her story.

The lawsuit focuses particular attention on the role of the Trump supporter, Ed Butowsky, in weaving the story. He is a wealthy Dallas investor and unpaid Fox commentator on financial matters who has emerged as a reliable Republican surrogate in recent years. Butowsky offered to pay for Wheeler to investigate the death of the DNC aide, Seth Rich, on behalf of his grieving parents in Omaha (NE). On April 20, a month before the story ran, Butowsky and Wheeler — the investor and the investigator — met at the White House with then-press secretary Sean Spicer to brief him on what they were uncovering. The first page of the lawsuit quotes a voicemail and text from Butowsky boasting that President Trump himself had reviewed drafts of the Fox News story just before it went to air and was published.