The RTDNA Voice of the First Amendment Task Force today expressed frustration with a growing number of attacks on the news media in general, and some journalists specifically, following Hurricane Harvey.
At a photo-op with U.S. Coast Guard rescuers over the Labor Day weekend, President Trump quipped that the rescuers saved lives "by going into winds that the media would not go into, they will not go into those winds, unless it's a really good story, in which case they will."
The truth is that a large number of local and national reporters did go into those same winds, and the accompanying high water. Some reporters and photojournalists embedded themselves with Coast Guard rescue missions, as evidenced in several reports, including a report CBS News correspondent Norah O’Donnell filed from the U.S.C.G. Houston command post. NPR reporter John Burnett braved raging floodwaters to accompany a rescue effort.
In one of the many other incidents in which journalists helped people stranded or otherwise in danger during Harvey, a CNN crew rescued a man who drove into high waters as his truck was being swept away by the current. Later, the pro-Trump Infowars and some conspiracy theory websites alleged the rescue had been staged. It was not, not just according to CNN, but according to Snopes.com as well.
After President Trump visited a Harvey shelter in Houston on Saturday, Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point U.S.A – which describes itself as “the community organizers of the right” – tweeted several images of the presidential visit with the message, “Pictures the media will never show you.” Interestingly, the images Kirk tweeted came from the media. A CNN reporter discovered Kirk’s inaccurate assertion was retweeted more than 1,500 times.
Then there’s the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency. Over the weekend, the AP reported that it had surveyed first-hand seven highly toxic Superfund sites in and around Houston and found them to be flooded, potentially causing serious health risks. The E.P.A, which had indicated it couldn’t survey any Superfund sites from the ground because they were “inaccessible,” fired back by issuing a statement that attacked the AP correspondent personally.
“As another major hurricane – Irma – heads toward the U.S., we find these kinds of unnecessary and, in some cases, outright false attacks on the brave journalists who risked their own lives to serve the public during Harvey exasperating,” said Dan Shelley, RTDNA Incoming Executive Director, who spearheads the task force. “They are further evidence that the anti-responsible journalism rhetoric emanating from some of the highest elected and public officials in the land is encouraging their supporters to distrust the courageous citizens who are keeping them informed.”
Shelley added, “We certainly hope Irma makes a sudden turn and heads out to sea, or at least weakens significantly. But if it doesn’t, the American people will be able to count on hundreds of journalists to keep them informed despite the risks they’ll be taking. And it is the public that is the real victim whenever responsible journalists are attacked, verbally or otherwise, merely for performing their Constitutionally-guaranteed duty to seek and report the truth.”
RTDNA formed the nonpartisan Voice of the First Amendment Task Force to defend against threats to the First Amendment and news media access, and to help the public better understand why responsible journalism is essential to their daily lives. It is a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, the archive of record for threats to press freedom in America. People wishing to support RTDNA’s efforts may reach out to the task force by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.