Harsh punishments for leakers hurt journalism

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Protesters calling for Trump's financial disclosures at a rally in St. Paul, MN, on April 15, 2017. Before former IRS contractor Charles Littlejohn leaked then-President Donald Trump’s tax returns to The New York Times, Trump was the only president since the Ford administration to refuse to release his returns. ("Rally to demand Donald Trump release his tax returns" by Fibonacci Blue is licensed under CC BY 2.0).

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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.

Read more on our website about the impact of Littlejohn’s draconian punishment on future whistleblowers and public-interest journalism.

First test of the New Jersey anti-SLAPP law

A New Jersey trial court may soon issue the state’s first decision interpreting its new anti-SLAPP statute, designed to protect against meritless lawsuits that seek to punish and chill constitutionally protected speech.

Although the case involves a defamation battle between politicians, it could still have significant implications for reporters and news outlets, who are frequent targets of SLAPPs.

Read more on our website about what journalists should look for in the court’s decision, and how the court could weaken or uphold the law’s protections against frivolous lawsuits targeting speech.

Israel and US continue to ignore press freedom

Almost four months into the Israel-Gaza war, the grim death toll of journalists, among other civilians, continues to grow. The international press still is shut out of Gaza.

This week, Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) Deputy Director of Advocacy Caitlin Vogus spoke to The Grass is Greener on radio station WXRW in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, about the abysmal state of press freedom in Gaza and what the Biden administration must do to pressure Israel to safeguard reporters’ lives and the public’s right to know about the war.

Listen to the whole interview here.

More recent reporting on the deadly situation for journalists covering the war is linked below.

The War the World Can’t See

Palestinian journalist leaves Gaza after 108 days chronicling war

Attacks, arrests, threats, censorship: The high risks of reporting the Israel-Gaza war

IPI Executive Board: Stop the killing of journalists in Gaza

Cartoon by Pia Guerra

What we’re reading

The Oregonian/OregonLive wins decision overturning order in Nike documents case. Earlier this week, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jolie A. Russo ordered The Oregonian to destroy documents related to a gender discrimination lawsuit against Nike that were inadvertently sent to a reporter. But days later, another judge ordered Russo to reconsider her ruling. The unconstitutional prior restraint on The Oregonian should never have been entered in the first place. Hopefully, Russo learned her lesson and won’t try to reinstate it.

Australian MPs pen letter urging UK government to stop Julian Assange's US extradition, citing health concerns. Later this month, Julian Assange will have what could be his final hearing in the U.K. on his appeal fighting extradition to the U.S., where he faces charges under the Espionage Act. If Assange is extradited and tried, it will be the first time a publisher has been prosecuted under the act, posing grave danger to press freedom. The U.K. shouldn’t extradite Assange, and the U.S. should drop this case.

Wisconsin Democrats introduce several bills to promote and protect local journalism. With the news industry’s financial model in free fall, more and more journalists being laid off, and local newspapers closing, lawmakers around the country must think creatively about how to fund local journalism. Tax breaks and incentives like those proposed by Rebuild Local News — and incorporated into bills like these in Wisconsin or the federal Community News and Small Business Support Act — are a good start.

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, 2024, 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. And our Social Media Editor will help ensure that FPF’s advocacy campaigns, digital security expertise, technology projects, and press freedom reporting achieve maximum visibility and reach. 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.

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States keep public in dark

A full-fledged assault on transparency is underway in the states. Recent changes to public records laws in New Jersey, Louisiana, and Utah are making it harder for journalists and the public to find out what government officials are up to.

Federal anti-SLAPP law needed ASAP

Recent baseless lawsuits against liberal and conservative outlets show the need for a federal law counteracting strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs.

Sen. Durbin, advance the PRESS Act

Sen. Dick Durbin has a rare chance to strengthen freedom of the press right now by advancing the bipartisan PRESS Act, a bill to protect journalist-source confidentiality at the federal level. But he needs to act quickly. This week, Freedom of the Press Foundation led a coalition of 123 civil liberties and journalism organizations and individual law professors and media lawyers in a letter to Durbin, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and ranking member Sen. Lindsey Graham, urging them to schedule a markup of the PRESS Act right away.