Kirstin McCudden discusses Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) with Radio Active Magazine regular Spencer Graves. FPF is a nonprofit founded in 2012 to support free speech and free press in the US. Kirstin is their Vice President of Editorial where she oversees the organization’s editorial strategy and standards. She is also managing editor of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, a project documenting press freedom violations in the United States in partnership with the Committee to Protect Journalists.
This discussion includes the following:
- Journalists have been threatened with prosecution for doing their job, even last year in Missouri. Federal legislation called the PRESS Act passed the US House unanimously last year but failed in the Senate. This bipartisan legislation has been reintroduced by Durbin, Lee, and Wyden in the Senate and Kiley and Raskin in the House. If passed, it will reduce the risks of journalists being persecuted for doing their jobs by public and private executives who seem more concerned with intimidating journalists and their sources than with protecting the public.
- The “Data broker loophole” allows government agencies to access the location of every cell phone in the US, the buying, email, and Internet browsing records of everyone everywhere and much more without a search warrant. This is vastly more information than was available to officials in the most totalitarian countries before the Internet. They do this without the need to convince a judge that they have “probable cause” to request that information, as required by the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution. The famous “Deep Throat” who exposed the official criminality that became the Watergate scandal would likely have been identified by these practices.
- Journalists are receiving death threats and their property is being vandalized. This past May two newsrooms were shot at. There were no injuries then, but five years ago five people were killed in a newsroom. On June 16, two journalists were convicted of trespassing on public property while trying to cover police closing a homeless encampment. FPF says, “It’s not OK.”
- Missouri Governor Parsons tried to have a journalist charged with hacking for privately reporting a flaw in a state database that allowed public access to thousands of educators’ Social Security numbers. Excuse me, Governor Parsons, are you saying that you want the public to be able to access that private information, and you do NOT want journalists to do their jobs? Fortunately, the Cole County prosecutor refused to file charges, but the journalist said, “it does not repair the harm done to me and my family.”
- In early 2022 the leaders of the Kansas state Senate revoked the access the journalists had had to the senate floor for decades. Isn’t this an attack on the right and the need of the public to know what their Senators are doing?
- A recent search of FPF’s Press Freedom Tracker for “Kansas City” provided documentation of several relatively recent attacks on journalism in Kansas and Missouri. On 2022 October 26, KMBC Channel 9, an ABC affiliate in Kansas City, was subpoenaed, demanding “any and all interview recordings” of several individuals as part of a lawsuit accusing Kansas Highway Patrol of sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Also last year, June 2, a journalist and a news director in St. Joseph were deposed with all records subpoenaed after publishing a report on a worker’s compensation lawsuit against a hospital. Are these efforts by people with power to intimidate (a) media outlets that might publish such reports and (b) employees who might report such problems?
Between 2019 and 2022 the United States moved from number 48 out of 180 nations in the world on the World Press Freedom Index to number 42 but has dropped back to number 45 in the rankings for 2023.
Copyright 2023 Kirstin McCudden and Spencer Graves, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA) 4.0 international license.