Reporters Committee in the News

The media law experts at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press are available for comment and analysis on breaking news stories involving issues such as content regulation, freedom of information, libel, newsgathering, prior restraints, privacy, reporter’s privilege (protecting confidential sources) and secret courts.

To schedule an interview with Executive Director Bruce D. Brown, Legal Defense Director Gregg P. Leslie, or Litigation Director Katie Townsend, find their direct contact information on our staff page. You also can email them directly at bbrown, gleslie or ktownsend via @rcfp.org.


Below are news clips featuring Reporters Committee staff and resources.

Reporters Committee joins Microsoft privacy fight

Reporters Committee Executive Director Bruce D. Brown (right) was a panelist at the Dec. 15, 2014 Electronic Privacy Press Event hosted by Microsoft in New York City. Panelists discussed their stand against a U.S. judge's order that Microsoft give up emails stored at its data center in Ireland. The Reporters Committee was one of several organizations signing on to legal briefs against disclosure.

Available on the Microsoft website are: a webcast of the discussion; legal documents relating to the case; and a blogpost by Brad Smith, Microsoft general counsel and executive vice president, legal and corporate affairs, explaining the issue.

Media coverage included:

Reporters Committee hires first litigation director

"Fair warning, all ye who interfere with newsgathering: The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is getting ready to sue you.

"The organization has hired its first litigation director, Katie Townsend, to bring lawsuits around the country in cases that affect access to information for the press and public." Columbia Journalism Review: "The Reporters Committee is about to start suing people to help journalists," by Jonathan Peters, Sept. 16, 2014

Media argue for unsealing additional documents in Wisconsin campaign finance probe

The Reporters Committee was joined by other organizations in arguments for disclosure of court documents concerning a secret investigation into alleged illegal coordination between conservative political organizations and the campaign of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. A recording of the arguments is posted to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals website. Some coverage:

Reporters Committee statement on arrest of journalists covering protests in Ferguson

The Reporters Committee called the arrest of reporters covering protests in Ferguson, Mo., "outrageous and unacceptable in a nation that cherishes a free press." Among those reporting the statement were:

Reporters Committee, free press groups petition DOJ, speak in support of subpoeaned New York Times reporter James Risen

Reporters Committee Legal Defense Director Gregg Leslie was among the speakers Aug. 14, 2014 at a National Press Club briefing about the subpoena of New York Times reporter James Risen. The event was covered by C-SPAN, which has posted the video on its website. You can also read coverage by the Reporters Committee online here, by McClatchy's Washington Bureau here, and by Politico here.

New York Times reporter James Risen speaks at the National Press Club briefing. Joining him, from the right, are television host and journalist Phil Donahue; Ahmed Ghappour, outside counsel, Freedom of the Press Foundation; Gregg Leslie, legal defense director, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press; and Jesselyn Radack, director of national security & human rights, Government Accountability Project. Seated to Risen’s right but not pictured are Norman Solomon, co-founder, RootsActions.org, and executive director, Institute for Public Accuracy; Delphine Halgand, director of the Washington office, Reporters Without Borders; and Courtney Radsch, advocacy director, Committee to Protect Journalists.

Reporters Committee staff help UVa law clinic sue the U.S. government for settlement documents

Students at the University of Virginia School of Law's First Amendment clinic sued the federal government for documents relating to secret settlements with help from Reporters Committee Executive Director Bruce Brown, who co-directs the clinic, and Jack Nelson FOI Fellow Emily Grannis. According to a writeup by The New York Times:

"For law school students, typically schooled on the minutiae of civil procedure but unprepared to write an actual brief, the clinic is a rare chance to cut their teeth on real-world litigation." ("Your Homework Assignment: Sue the Federal Government," by Ben Protess, The New York Times, DealBook, April 8, 2014)

Sunshine Week 2014: Reporters Committee co-hosts panel on transparency at the U.S. Supreme Court

To celebrate Sunshine Week 2014, the Reporters Committee co-hosted with  NYU-Washington and the Coalition for Court Transparency a panel discussion on "Supreme Sunshine: Shining a Light on the Supreme Court." Moderated by Dahlia Lithwick of Slate, a member of the Reporters Committee's Steering Committee, the discussion looked at issues including justice's papers, access to cert decisions and reporting on justice's speeches. Watch the video below:

Reporters Committee Executive Director Bruce Brown co-authors a law journal article on the SPEECH Act

Bruce Brown and Clarissa Pintado have co-authored an article, "The Small Steps of the SPEECH Act," for the Virginia Journal of International Law. The summary is available online, as is a PDF of the entire paper.

They write: "This is the phenomenon of 'libel tourism.' While England was not the only problematic foreign jurisdiction, it was by far the most notorious - the 'libel capital of the world' - with several high-profile cases that resulted in complete capitulation from publishers. For American media companies, the threat of libel tourism had developed into a real concern. Media defendants were settling suits abroad as U.S. enforcement uncertainties loomed."

 Media coalition, including Reporters Committee, launches TV ads, petition to encourage Justices to allow cameras in the U.S. Supreme Court

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has joined the Coalition for Court Transparency (CCT), a group of media and legal organizations focused on urging the U.S. Supreme Court to allow live video of oral arguments. In conjunction with CCT’s announcement, comes the launch of a 30-second television ad titled “Everywhere,” that will run some 300 times in the Washington, D.C., market on cable news outlets including CNBC, CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC through March 10. The ad can be viewed on the newly launched OpenSCOTUS.com website, where people can join a petition to Chief Justice John Roberts urging him to open the Court to camera coverage.

Coverage of the launch included:


U.S. news media urge Parliament to recommit to press freedom on the eve of Guardian hearing over NSA reports

The Reporters Committee was joined by 12 news organizations in a letter to Parliament calling on MPs to reaffirm their commitment to a free press. The letter was sent on the eve of a hearing before the Home Affairs Committee, which heard testimony from Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger about the paper’s publication of information based on leaked documents from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Among the reports mentioning the letter were:


Judge orders release of JonBenet Ramsey grand jury documents

Seventeen years after her body was discovered in the basement of her parents’ home, a Colorado judge ruled that grand jury documents in the JonBenet Ramsey murder investigation would be released to the public. The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by the Reporters Committee and Daily Camera reporter Charlie Brennan.

“The public has a right to know what the grand jury did and how the prosecutor’s office handled that information, particularly in a case that has gone unsolved for so many years,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Bruce D. Brown. (“Reporters Committee, journalist fought for release of Ramsey grand jury documents,” Reporters Committee, Oct. 25, 2013) 

Brennan wrote: “While grand jury witnesses and their testimony remain shielded for good reason, the ultimate decisions of juries and prosecutors must be public if the people are to retain any faith or trust in the rule of law.” (Why I fought for the Ramsey indictment's release,” by Charlie Brennan, The Daily Camera, Boulder, Oct. 25, 2013)

The news received widespread coverage from myriad news outlets. Those that mentioned the Reporters Committee and Brennan’s suit specifically included:


Judges, journalists, legal experts discuss transparency and tradition at the U.S. Supreme Court

A Reporters Committee-hosted panel discussion on Oct. 25, 2013 at the National Press Club in Washington featured a stellar panel of experts discussing Supreme Court transparency issues, such as cameras in the courtroom, recusals and press pools. The event was broadcast live on C-SPAN 2 and is now available on the C-SPAN website.

In addition to our own write up on the Reporters Committee news blog ("Reporters Committee panel discusses technology and tansparency in the Supreme Court," by Latara Appleby, Oct. 25, 2013).The panel also was covered by:


Reporters Committee launches iFOIA

Mediabistro's journalism technology blog 10,000 Words gave a great write up to the Reporters Committee launch of the iFOIA online system for filing and tracking freedom of information requests, noting:

"It’s a great tool for reporters doing investigative work, but also for the general public."

("iFOIA: One Stop Resource for Filing, Tracking, and Sharing FOI Requests," by Karen Fratti, 10,000 Words, Oct. 24, 2013)


Debate over mugshots heats up

Former Reporters Committee FOI Director Mark Caramanica was featured prominently in a New York Times article discussing the debate over the release of criminal booking photographs, or mugshots. The story noted:

But as legislators draft laws [restricting release of the photos], they are finding plenty of resistance, much of it from journalists who assert that public records should be just that: public. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press argues that any restriction on booking photographs raises First Amendment issues and impinges on editors’ right to determine what is newsworthy. That right was recently exercised by newspapers and Web sites around the world when the public got its first look at Aaron Alexis, the Navy Yard gunman, through a booking photograph from a 2010 arrest.

"What we have is a situation where people are doing controversial things with public records,” says Mark Caramanica, a director at the committee, a nonprofit organization based in Arlington, Va. “But should we shut down the entire database because there are presumably bad actors out there?”

("Mugged by a mugshot online," by David Segal, The New York Times, Oct. 5, 2014)


Government shutdown brings FOIA processing to a halt

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog cited the Reporters Committee in an item noting that, "Some federal agencies have indicated they won’t accept Freedom of Information Act requests until the shutdown ends." ("Silencer Loophole Targeted; Hackers Indicted; FOIA Foiled," by Jacob Gershman, The Wall Street Journal, Law Blog, Oct. 4, 2013)


Senate Judiciary Committee passes reporters' shield bill

The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post were among those picking up the Reporters Committee's statement on passage of the Free Flow of Information Act by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. The statement read:

"We are pleased to see that the Judiciary Committee passed this bill. It goes a long way toward ensuring that reporters will be protected from subpoenas for their confidential information and sources. It's not a perfect bill, but it tried to cover a broad array of reporters. While it is not as inclusive as we would like, it is not nearly as limited in that area as previous attempts at federal shield law have been.

"It still is important that we work with Congress and the administration to make sure journalists' records are not scooped up in broad surveillance programs, and that the Justice Department attorneys respect the rights of reporters, but today's action is a significant step in the right direction."

It still is important that we work with Congress and the administration to make sure journalists' records are not scooped up in broad surveillance programs, and that Justice Department attorneys respect the rights of reporters, but today's action is a significant step in the right direction.

- See more at: http://www.rcfp.org/reporters-committee-statement-shield-bill#sthash.z3UhUFBx.dpuf

We are pleased to see that the Judiciary Committee passed this bill. It goes a long way toward ensuring that reporters will be protected from subpoenas for their confidential information and sources. It's not a perfect bill, but it tries to cover a broad array of reporters. While it is not as inclusive as we would like, it is not nearly as limited in that area as previous attempts at a federal shield law have been.

It still is important that we work with Congress and the administration to make sure journalists' records are not scooped up in broad surveillance programs, and that Justice Department attorneys respect the rights of reporters, but today's action is a significant step in the right direction.

- See more at: http://www.rcfp.org/reporters-committee-statement-shield-bill#sthash.z3UhUFBx.dpuf

We are pleased to see that the Judiciary Committee passed this bill. It goes a long way toward ensuring that reporters will be protected from subpoenas for their confidential information and sources. It's not a perfect bill, but it tries to cover a broad array of reporters. While it is not as inclusive as we would like, it is not nearly as limited in that area as previous attempts at a federal shield law have been.

It still is important that we work with Congress and the administration to make sure journalists' records are not scooped up in broad surveillance programs, and that Justice Department attorneys respect the rights of reporters, but today's action is a significant step in the right direction.

- See more at: http://www.rcfp.org/reporters-committee-statement-shield-bill#sthash.z3UhUFBx.dpuf

("Senate committee approves reporters' shield law," by David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times, Sept. 12, 2103; and "Media shield act moves on to the full Senate," by Sari Horowitz, The Washington Post, Sept. 12, 2013)


Government investigates journalists

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has been at the forefront of the condemnation and call-to-action following the news that the Department of Justice secretly subpoenaed the phone logs of Associated Press journalists in the government hunt for a leaker. Within 24 hours, the Reporters Committee wrote and coordinated a letter co-signed by 50 news organizations calling on the government to explain its overreach and calling for renewed efforts for a federal shield law.

The Reporters Committee also responded with a statement as the news soon followed that a Fox News reporter was investigated by the Justice Department as a "co-conspirator" for his newsgathering that involved classified information from a confidential source.

Reporters Committee senior legal staff have since fielded dozens of media calls, helping to explain the legal intricacies and next steps needed to protect journalists' confidential sources, and the media coalition letter from the Reporters Committee has been featured in numerous media accounts.

The Reporters Committee also has been called on for discussion of the NSA leaks by a government contractor.

News reports on these and related issues include (but are not limited to):

In another case of the government seeking a reporter's confidential source, the Reporters Committee responded quickly to the news that New York Times coorespodent James Risen would be compelled to testify about his confidential source. Articles included:


First Amendment

Reporters Committee Executive Director Bruce D. Brown and former Google exec Alan B. Davidson noted in a Jan. 4, 2013 New York Times op-ed on the FTC Google decision:

"The theories that many critics advanced — that search must be “neutral” because it is akin to a public utility, or that computer-generated search results are not speech and therefore not protected under the First Amendment — would have undermined free press principles across the Internet. That the F.T.C. decision permits Google to continue to use its judgment in analyzing search requests and presenting pertinent results is a victory for online expression and is consistent with First Amendment law since the 1940s."

("Is Google Like Gas or Steel?" by Bruce D. Brown and Alan B. Davidson, The New York Times, Jan. 4, 2013).

Reporters Committee's Gregg Leslie was a guest on "Fox and Friends" on July 24, 2012 to discuss a victim's First Amendment right to talk about what happened to her. Watch the clip online.


Newsgathering

Reporters Committee Executive Director Bruce Brown is interviewed March 4, 2013 by Furman University President Rod Smolla for the segment, "Pivitol Elements: Journalism, Education and the 'New Media' " on the university's YouTube channel. Watch the interview here.

 

ProPublica published an explaination of the renewed efforts in Washington to go after the source of information leaks through Senate legislation and Justice Department investigations. Discussing the Senate bill specifically, ProPublica reported:

Gregg Leslie, the interim director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, says that the restrictions would hamper reporting on sensitive issues, but not because they stem leaks. “It’s not all about getting a scoop on some hot story, it’s about getting the facts straight,” he said. “You need to be able to bounce your ideas, your theories, your tips from a million sources, off of someone in the government who knows what’s right.” The Reporters Committee supports other media groups who filed a memo opposing the bill.

("Washington's war on leaks, explained," by Cora Currier, ProPublica, Aug. 2, 2012)

The New York Times reported on the "distinct chill over press coverage of national security issues" as Washington lawmakers stepped up their efforts to stop leaks through legislation and prosecution. Agencies have responded by holding fewer or no briefings or press interviews. Noting the increased caution with which reporters must approach sources now, the Times explained:

Gregg Leslie, the interim executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, an advocacy group, said the effect of the current investigation comes on top of a growing awareness by journalists in the last two years that the government often tracks employees’ e-mail and telephone contacts.

“Reporters are beginning to resort to the old practice of meeting on a park bench to avoid leaving an electronic trail,” he said.

("Inquiry into security leaks is casting chill over coverage," by Scott Shane, The New York Times, Aug. 1, 2012)

Mediabistro's AppNewser included the Reporters Committee FirstAid app in its list of "5 Apps for Journalists."

Smartphones and tablets make it easier than ever for journalists to stay in touch with newsrooms while out in the field. These devices also serve as great research and recording tools. To help journalists take full advantage of these tools, we’ve put together a list of five apps that can help with researching and reporting.

("5 Apps For Journalists," by Dianna Dilworth, AppNewser, July 24, 2012)


Freedom of Information

Limiting FOIA requests to state residents hampers investigative journalism and frustrates the free flow of information generally, said Reporters Committee FOI Director Mark Caramanica during an interview with Brooke Gladstone for NPR's "On the Media." Listen online. ("New Limitations to Freedom of Information Act Requests," interview by Brooke Gladstone, On the Media, National Public Radio, May 3, 2013)


Reporter's Privilege

Reuters turned to the Reporters Committee to comment on a New York state appeals court ruling against a N.Y.-based Fox News reporter's effort to nullify a Colo. court's subpoena seeking the confidential sources for her sources in a story about accused movie-theater shooter James Holmes. The Reporters Committee filed a brief in the case, which was signed by 40 news organizaitons including Reuters.

"It's hard to say New York is such a good law when it leaves a reporter no remedy when another state wants his materials," said Gregg Leslie, the committee's legal defense director.

("Reporter must testify in Colorado shooting case -N.Y. court," by Joseph Ax, Reuters, Aug. 20, 2013)

Legal Defense Director Gregg Leslie, commenting on the espionage conviction of Bradley Manning, told The New York Times that the results were alarming, particularly in light of how important the information was to the public debate.

"We always hate to see a government employee who was trying to publicize wrongdoing convicted of a crime, but this case was unusual from the start because of the scope of his release,” Leslie said. “Because of Manning’s obligations as a government employee, it almost would have been more of a surprise if the government had not won on an Espionage Act count.”

("Manning acquitted of aiding the enemy," by Charlie Savage, The New York Times, July 30, 2013)

Reporters Committee Legal Defense Director Gregg Leslie appeared on the Today Show May 14, 2013 to discuss the Justice Department's intrusion into the phone records of AP journalists. Watch the clip online.
 

 

Legal Defense Director Gregg Leslie was interviewed by RT America on Sept. 25, 2012 about the Reporters Committee's friend-of-the-court brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to allow journalists to challenge federal wiretap laws. Watch online here.

Secret Courts

The Armstrong Teasdale LLP blog noted the Reporters Committee’s “historic move” by filing an amicus brief in the “the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) to support the free-speech rights of Google and Microsoft. The July 15, 2013 action marks the first time RCFP has both filed with the FISA Court and backed the First Amendment interests of Internet companies.”  (“Reporters Committee and Media Companies Back Google, Microsoft in FISA Court,” Armstrong Teasdale blog, July 17, 2013; Reprinted in The National Law Review, July 26, 2013)

 

Usealing court documents in a case involving the mayor of Washington, D.C., was discussed by Reporters Committee Legal Defense Director Gregg Leslie during an interview May 3, 2013 on NewsChannel 8 program NewsTalk with Brian DePuyt. Watch the clip here.

 

Reporting by The Associated Press about a judge's decision to seal the university records of the suspect in the Aurora, Colo., mass shootings noted:

Mark Caramanica, freedom-of-information director at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Arlington, Va., called the order “highly unorthodox.” He said it was unusual that a public institution would consult with an outside entity instead of just following the law and answering the request. “It seems very premature for a court to get involved and make such a sweeping order,” Caramanica said. “It seems like a very broad and overly aggressive approach.”

("Colorado judge bans release of theater suspect's university documents," by Nicholas Riccardi, The Associated Press, July 26, 2012)