January 2010 Archives

The ground is shifting in the conventions of media as we've known it in this country," according to Chuck Lewis, the 2009 Silha Lecturer. "The major media outlets don't have enough staff, they've gutted their newsrooms, they have one reporter doing the job of three or four people. And then we've got nonprofits ... that want more traffic and more reach and impact than just their Web site." According to Lewis, these conditions constitute a fundamental change in investigative reporting in the United States.

Members of the student press faced challenges from state prosecutors in Illinois, a Supreme Court justice's staff in New York, and a school superintendent in Missouri in the fall of 2009. Meanwhile, student newspapers in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania refused to run certain advertisements, citing a desire to avoid controversy and fear of libel charges.

Social Media Sites Assist Gagged British Newspaper

Social networking sites and blogs helped uncover the source of a gag order against the British newspaper The Guardian in October 2009 after the paper published a story on its Web site claiming it was prohibited from reporting certain remarks made in the British Parliament.

American Journalist, Companions Charged with Espionage

On Nov. 9, 2009, an American freelance journalist and two companions were charged with espionage by Iranian authorities in Tehran after 101 days of imprisonment. The three were reportedly hiking in the Iraqi region of Kurdistan on July 31 when they crossed over the Iranian border and were arrested by border guards.

British troops carried out a deadly raid against Taliban forces in northern Afghanistan on September 9, 2009, to rescue New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell. Although Farrell was successfully freed, a British soldier, an Afghan civilian, and Farrell"s interpreter, Afghan journalist Sultan Munadi, were killed during the rescue effort.

Massachusetts Jury Rejects Truthful Libel Claim

A Florida jury awarded the former chief of medicine at a Veterans Administration medical center more than $10 million in a libel suit against the St. Petersburg Times in an Aug. 28, 2009 verdict, despite the paper's insistence that its stories were true.

Citing potential threats of violence, Yale University Press removed 12 Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad that sparked a series of riots in 2006 from a forthcoming book about the cartoon controversy. Other historical images of Muhammad, including a drawing for a children's book, an Ottoman print, and a sketch by 19th-century artist Gustave Doré, were also deleted from the book, titled "The Cartoons That Shook the World."

Conde Nast Accused of Self-Censorship

In what was widely viewed as an act of self-censorship, publishing giant Conde Nast suppressed the publication of a controversial story in the September 2009 issue of the Russian edition of one of its magazines, drawing the ire of American journalists and media critics.

Photo of Dying Marine Sparks Controversy

An Associated Press (AP) decision to publish a photograph of a fatally wounded Marine in Afghanistan drew sharp criticism from the Pentagon and sparked a journalistic debate in September 2009 after the AP made the photograph public over the objections of the soldier's family. The controversy over the release of the photograph eventually led to modifications in the rules governing media photography of the war in Afghanistan.

ACORN Videos Provoke Media Debate, Trigger Lawsuit

A series of hidden-camera videos released in September 2009 depicting employees of the nonprofit group Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) advising a couple posing as a pimp and a prostitute resulted in the elimination of the organization's federal funding, a lawsuit against the filmmakers, and a bevy of media commentary surrounding news coverage of the videos.

The relationship between President Barack Obama and the Fox television network, and in particular the Fox News Channel, escalated into a headline-grabbing feud in the fall of 2009, prompting criticism of both the cable network's politically-charged commentary and the administration's reaction to Fox's unfavorable coverage.

The Washington Post agreed to delay publication and redact certain portions of a classified Afghanistan report after the White House expressed concern that the release of the leaked document might threaten the safety of U.S. troops, Post writer Howard Kurtz revealed on September 22, 2009.

New Federal Trade Commission guidelines became effective on December 1 that require online product reviewers to disclose any compensation or payment received in exchange for publishing the review.

Reporting Errors Haunt Major News Outlets

In the fall of 2009, several inaccurate stories in the mainstream news media circulated widely among reputable organizations before they were retracted or corrected.

A proposed federal law intended to combat a form of Internet-based harassment known a "cyber-bullying" was criticized by a House subcommittee this fall. Meanwhile, local police made several arrests attempting to enforce similar, state-based legislation.

Hawaiian Shield Law Protects Independent Filmmaker

A Hawaii state district court judge ruled on September 2 that Hawaii's journalist shield law exempts independent filmmaker Keoni Kealoha Alvarez from responding to subpoenas or being deposed in a lawsuit involving a property dispute.

Military Appeals Court Rejects Reporter's Privilege

A military appeals court held that military courts should not recognize a reporter's privilege for non-confidential sources under either constitutional or common law in a decision published Aug. 31, 2009. The U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals overturned a ruling by a military judge that had quashed a government subpoena seeking unaired portions of a "60 Minutes" interview with Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich.

Courts across the country curtailed public access to judicial records and court proceedings in the fall of 2009, as state and federal judges used a variety of statutory, constitutional, and administrative methods to limit openness.

A Florida judge awarded $750,000 in legal fees on Sept. 25, 2009, to the attorneys of an open-government advocacy group that sued several city officials in Venice, Fla., for violating the state's open government laws.

The New York Times does not have a First Amendment right of access to sealed wiretap applications filed in the investigation of the prostitution ring that led to former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's resignation, the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled on Aug. 6, 2009.

The 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals dismissed a lawsuit on September 10 brought by two city council members from Alpine, Texas, who challenged the constitutionality of the Texas Open Meetings Act. The court's en banc panel declared the case moot by a 16-1 vote, reversing an earlier ruling from a three-judge panel on the 5th Circuit.

The Pentagon authorized a private public relations firm to compile background profiles on journalists seeking to cover the war in Afghanistan that rated the reporters' past work as "positive," "negative," or "neutral," according to Stars and Stripes, a daily military newspaper authorized and funded by the Department of Defense.

President Barack Obama announced on Sept. 5, 2009, that his administration would begin voluntarily releasing the names of White House visitors in order to settle a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit from the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

The 3rd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in an opinion published Sept. 22, 2009, that corporations have a "personal privacy" interest that may allow their records to be withheld from release under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for government documents.

On November 30, the Supreme Court of the United States vacated a 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals judgment ordering the release of 44 government-held photographs depicting detainee mistreatment at the hands of U.S. troops, remanding the case back to the appeals court for reconsideration under new legislation intended to prohibit publication of the photos. The high court's decision made it unlikely the photos will be released in the foreseeable future.

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