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Arrests of U.S. Journalists Down, But Remain a Threat

Few American journalists are put on trial for doing their jobs, but that doesn't mean arrests and other threats barely exist. In fact, reports Columbia Journalism Review, 16 journalists were detained or arrested in the U.S. last year, and at least two have been so far this year, according to the Press Freedom Tracker. In one case, two reporters for the Asheville Blade, in North Carolina, were arrested on Christmas Day 2021 while covering the police clearing of a homeless encampment and charged with trespassing. The threats go beyond aggressive policing, ranging from the deadly (the killing of Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Jeff German last year, allegedly by a public official he was reporting on) to much subtler pressure, such as a case of political meddling at West Virginia Public Broadcasting that its affiliate, NPR, called a "years-long pattern of mounting pressure on the station" by the state's governor and some legislators.


As the Press Freedom Tracker has noted, “far fewer” reporters were arrested on U.S. soil last year than the year before—and “far, far fewer” were arrested in 2022 than in 2020, when mass protests following the murder of George Floyd led to mass detentions of journalists nationwide. At the national political level, the presidency of Joe Biden has been far better for press freedom than that of Trump; Biden has been far from flawless in this regard, but calls to jail Politico reporters, at least, are not now coming from the Oval Office. But the varied cases in recent months "come in the context of a recent climate for press freedom in the U.S. that is historically fragile," CJR's columnist, Jon Allsop, concludes. "Zoom out, and they show that press threats in the US take place within something like concentric geographic circles, the exact boundaries of which are fuzzy and porous: local reporters get arrested at the local level; national reporters get arrested at the local level; local politicians with poor records on the press seek national office; national politicians make light of international press-freedom crises; those crises affect journalists at every level inside the U.S."

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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