It will likely come as no surprise to know that 2020 was a dangerous year to be a journalist in the United States.
Michael De Dora, the Washington advocacy manager at the Committee to Protect Journalists, says the organization’s most recent census found a 600 percent increase in attacks on journalists compared with 2019 in the U.S. alone. This includes more than 100 journalists arrested and/or criminally charged and some 300 assaulted.
“We’re sifting through 980 total violations related to social unrest protests” alone, he says.
The protests around the country last summer, in particular, put American journalists in a dangerous position, as they were physically between those demonstrating in the streets and the law enforcement officers who both didn’t want the reporters there and might not have known who the members of the press were unless they were wearing vests or other identification. (Granted, some officers knew who members of the press were and attacked them anyway.)
“What you’re seeing is something that is the result of the soil and the atmosphere that already existed,” De Dora says. Politicians from the highest levels of government down to local elected officials “have been accusing journalists of being fake news and enemies of the people. Coupled with the rapid disappearance of local news outlets in a large percent of the United States, we have a situation in which people may be more open to accusations that news organizations are fake news or enemies of the people, because they may not know a journalist or have a local outlet. Accusations of being fake news may more easily take hold. Unfortunately, this leads us to, for the United States, a country where there’s fear and mistrusts of journalists and news organizations and the information they’re producing. This is in large part due to the fact that we have elected leaders who find it too easy to blindly criticize journalists.”
While the number of attacks against journalists has risen, and distrust of the news has grown, De Dora notes that this in and of itself isn’t exactly new.
“What’s interesting is about (Thomas) Jefferson and (John) Adams and others who wrote the founding documents (of the United States), even while they were speaking to this need to have an independent press … they were not really that friendly toward the press in their private written documents. In a lot of letters they exchanged, they were critical of the news out there,” he says. “What we’re seeing that’s different from the last decades is what you said, this complete attack on the role that the independent press plays in a democratic society.”
It’s All Journalism host Michael O’Connell is joined by Michael De Dora, Washington advocacy manager with the Committee to Protect Journalists. They discuss the sharp increase in attacks against American journalists in 2020 and what might be in store for the press under a new administration.