Bipartisan support for the PRESS Act

FPF Logo for circles

Promoting press freedom in the 21st century

Dear Friend of Press Freedom,

Here are some of the most important stories we’re following from the U.S. and around the world. If you enjoy reading this newsletter, please forward it to friends and family. If someone has forwarded you this newsletter, please subscribe here.

Journalist Catherine Herridge, pictured above interviewing former Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller in 2020, has spent months fighting a federal subpoena that would force her to burn her sources. The bipartisan PRESS Act would protect journalist-source confidentiality at the federal level. (201215-D-BN624-0040” by Lisa Ferdinando is licensed under CC BY 2.0 DEED)

Bipartisan support for the PRESS Act

As unlikely as it sounds, Republicans and Democrats are putting their differences aside to support the most important press freedom legislation in modern times — the PRESS Act.

As Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) Director of Advocacy Seth Stern wrote in an op-ed in The Hill with Clayton Weimers of Reporters Without Borders, the PRESS Act’s bipartisan appeal stems from the fact that journalist-source confidentiality benefits everyone who relies on the press to stay informed. Read the full op-ed here.

FPF Deputy Director of Advocacy Caitlin Vogus also explained in an interview with First Amendment Watch that the PRESS Act will “improve the quality of journalism and ensure that Americans have access to the information that they need to be informed participants in our democracy.” Read the full interview here.

U.S. escalates its war on leakers

When prosecutors found a defendant as unsympathetic as ex-CIA employee Joshua Schulte — who was convicted both of leaking government secrets and possession of child sexual abuse material — they jumped at the opportunity to escalate their war on leakers in ways they could later use to punish real whistleblowers.

Schulte absolutely should serve a lengthy prison sentence for his abhorrent crime of possessing child sexual abuse materials. But it’s telling that the government threw the book at him for leaking a tranche of CIA secrets to WikiLeaks, known as the Vault 7 leaks, instead.

Schulte’s lengthy sentence for leaking follows the draconian five-year sentence imposed recently on Charles Littlejohn, who leaked the tax returns of Donald Trump and other wealthy Americans to the press. We wrote about that disturbing case last month.

Read more on our website about how the government is using the Schulte case to test how far it can go in punishing those who expose its abuses.

Northwestern’s student newspaper helps kill anti-speech prosecution

Members of the Daily Northwestern editorial board didn’t particularly appreciate when two students created parody versions of their newspaper’s front page and placed them over copies of the actual newspaper.

But they recognized that their parent company’s decision to report the incident to police — and prosecutors’ decision to press charges against the students under an obscure law — were both unnecessary and dangerous for free speech.

Good for them. We wrote about the case and how professional journalists should follow the Daily Northwestern’s lead and oppose anti-speech prosecutions that threaten their own rights, even if they don’t like the speaker. Exhibit A: Julian Assange.

What we’re reading

City’s lawsuit seeks to shift blame over release of LAPD undercover officer photos. The Supreme Court once referred to prior restraints prohibiting the press from publishing as the “most serious” of First Amendment violations. Well, those justices hadn’t met Los Angeles City Attorney Hydee Feldstein Soto. She’s managed to find an even more offensive way to ignore the Constitution. LA is not only seeking to prohibit a journalist from publishing information it accidentally gave him. It’s also suing him to make him pay the costs of the city’s own negligence.

US rolls out visa restriction policy on people who abuse spyware to target journalists, activists. The Biden administration is imposing new visa restrictions on people who use spyware against journalists. It’s great to see those who misuse spyware face some consequences. They should also be held responsible under criminal and civil law.

Lawmakers are pushing an online safety bill for kids. Critics have free-speech concerns. The Kids Online Safety Act won’t help protect kids, but it will lead to overremovals of online speech on “controversial” topics, including the news. Don’t believe us? Just look at what happens when schools limit what students can see online in the name of safety — they end up censoring the news.

FPF Live

Jailing Journalists: The Assange case and the threat to press freedom. Join FPF and a panel of experts from the ACLU, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Knight First Amendment Institute on Feb. 15, at 12:30 p.m. EST for a virtual discussion explaining how the Assange prosecution endangers all journalists. And don’t miss the world premiere of an FPF video urging the Biden administration to drop this dangerous prosecution. REGISTER HERE.

Data-driven coverage of press freedom. In honor of Student Press Freedom Day on Feb. 22, FPF will host a virtual training at 7 p.m. EST on using the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker for your reporting, along with a discussion of why covering press freedom issues matters for journalists and their readers. All journalists — students or not — are welcome! REGISTER HERE.

We’re hiring

FPF is hiring! The Daniel Ellsberg Chair on Government Secrecy, established in honor of the legendary Pentagon Papers whistleblower who co-founded FPF, will lead the national fight against excessive government secrecy — the root cause of so many press freedom and democracy issues. We’re also looking for a summer intern for our advocacy team who will help us relentlessly advocate for the First Amendment and the protection of press freedom and whistleblowers.

Defining Stories: Freedom of the Press Foundation’s 2023 Impact Report

We’re excited to share FPF’s 2023 Impact Report, marking another year of achievements and relentless advocacy for press freedom. Learn more about our work by checking out our five key sections in the report: Honoring FPF co-founder Daniel Ellsberg, supporting the press freedom community, extending FPF’s impact nationally and globally, defending local and big-name journalists alike, and demonstrating SecureDrop’s influence on global issues.

Donate to support press freedom

Your support is more important than ever.

Read more about Advocacy News

Harsh punishments for leakers hurt journalism

Former IRS contractor Charles Littlejohn received the maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment on Monday, after pleading guilty to leaking Donald Trump’s returns to The New York Times. Littlejohn also leaked a tranche of ultrawealthy Americans’ tax documents to ProPublica. It’s sadly ironic that Littlejohn is being harshly punished for exposing billionaire tax evasion while billionaire tax evaders themselves continue to be afforded leniency by the judiciary.

FAQs about the PRESS Act

The PRESS Act -– which passed the House last week with no opposition — is the most important press freedom legislation in modern history. It would finally put an end to retaliatory surveillance of journalists who embarrass officials, as well as court orders requiring journalists to choose between burning their sources and risking jail time. As it heads to the Senate, we answer some of the common questions we’ve seen asked about the act. Topics range from the substance and scope of the bill to what you can do to help get it through the Senate.

PRESS Act passes the House

The House of Representatives passed the PRESS Act by unanimous consent on Jan. 18, 2024. The act is a bipartisan reporter’s shield bill that would protect journalists from being forced to name their sources in federal court and would stop the federal government from spying on journalists through their technology providers. It’s the strongest shield bill we’ve ever seen — and also the one with the best chance of becoming law. Now it’s up to the Senate to finish the job.