“Fake news” death threats portend deep problem for all journalists

January 23, 2018 01:00

RTDNA and its Voice of the First Amendment Task Force are urging all journalists and news organizations to take extra security measures following the arrest of a man from Michigan for allegedly threatening to assassinate several CNN employees.
 
An affidavit released Monday by the FBI says agents arrested Brandon Griesemer of Novi, Michigan, after he made nearly two dozen calls to CNN’s Atlanta headquarters in early January, during at least four of which he threatened to “gun you all down” because the network is “fake news.” He is also accused of telling CNN “I’m smarter than you. More powerful than you. I have more guns that you. More manpower. Your cast is about to get gunned down in a matter of hours.”
 
Thankfully, the FBI was able to intercept the caller before he could carry out his threats. And a man who identified himself as Griesemer’s father told The Washington Post his son “didn’t really mean any of it.” Griesemer is charged with interstate communications with an intent to extort, threaten or injure, and is free on an unsecured bond of $10,000.
 
“This is why ‘fake news’ and ‘enemy of the American people’ are harmful and unacceptable,” wrote RTDNA Executive Director Dan Shelley in a tweet Monday night.
 
 
Shelley and RTDNA believe there is a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the anti-journalism rhetoric being spewed by the president of the United States and others who don’t like responsible journalism, and the increase in threats, harassment, obstruction, arrests and assaults targeting reporters and photojournalists across America.
 
“We urge all journalists and news organizations throughout the nation to take immediate steps to enhance their safety and security in light of the escalation of threats of violence against responsible journalism,” Shelley said.
 
The revelation of the alleged threats to CNN came one day after American Urban Radio Networks White House correspondent April Ryan said on Sunday’s CNN “Reliable Sources” that she has received a number of death threats merely for asking questions of President Trump. Shelley tweeted about that, too.
 
 
Further, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, of which RTDNA is a founding partner, there were 44 physical attacks on journalists in 2017. Thirty of those attacks were committed on journalists covering protests or civil unrest. Two were committed by politicians.
 
Shelley’s Monday tweet about the alleged death threats against CNN was “liked” and “retweeted” hundreds of times. It received several positive and supportive replies. But it also brought out some trolls. Here are just a few examples:
 

 
With regard to the final two examples noted above, to be clear, RTDNA abhors violence against anyone and everyone, not just journalists. It tends to speak out more about violence and harassment targeting journalists because RTDNA is, after all, a journalism advocacy organization. It is the world’s largest professional association devoted exclusively to advocating on behalf of broadcast and digital journalists in particular.
 
As for RTDNA’s call for news organizations to enhance security, it urges corporate news executives, station general managers, news directors, publishers and editors to ask themselves the following questions:
 
  1. Have you taken any steps thus far to protect the safety of your reporters, photojournalists and other employees?
  2. Have you offered general safety and specific self-defense training to your employees?
  3. Do you provide specific safety and security training for MMJs who, by definition, work alone in the field?
  4. Do you provide armed security guards for journalists working in high-risk areas?
  5. Have you enhanced the physical security of your station or office, e.g., bullet-proof glass in the lobby?
  6. Do you have a protocol for dealing with threats that come in via telephone, email, social media, website comment sections, etc., and do you have your local law enforcement and the FBI on speed dial?
 
There are other steps that can be taken, to be sure. But these six questions are intended as thought-starters for news organization leaders who, sadly, have to be mindful of such issues in today’s environment.
 
It should also be stressed that while RTDNA urges journalists to be mindful of security, it also admonishes reporters and photojournalists not to be intimidated by threats, harassment and other forms of obstruction.
 
As Shelley said in his Sunday tweet regarding April Ryan’s death threats, don’t “back down. The only antidote to attacks on responsible journalism is more and better journalism!”
 
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. Reach out to the task force by emailing pressfreedom@rtdna.org.