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Fall 2009

Bulletin Fall 2009

Top Story

Supreme Court Vacates and Remands Detainee Photo Case after Congressional Action
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 government­held 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. Continue reading

FOIA and Access

3rd Circuit Rules Personal Privacy Interest Applies to Corporations
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. Continue reading

White House Agrees to Release Visitor Logs on Its Own Terms
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). Continue reading

Pentagon Newspaper Says Military Used Profiles of Reporters in Selecting Embeds
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. Continue reading

5th Circuit Upholds Texas Open Meetings Law; More Challenges Underway
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. Continue reading

2nd Circuit Denies New York Times Access to Emperor’s Club Wiretap Information
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. Continue reading

Florida Judge Grants $750,000 Award for Attorneys’ Fees in Open Government Suit
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. Continue reading

State, Federal Courts Resist Access to Judicial Records, Proceedings
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. Continue reading

Subpoenas and Shield Laws

Military Appeals Court Rejects Reporter’s Privilege
A military appeals court held that military courts should not recognize a reporter’s privilege for non­confidential sources under either constitutional or common law in a decision published Aug. 31, 2009. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Digital Media

Federal Government, States Grapple with Cyber­Bullying Laws
A proposed federal law intended to combat a form of Internet­based harassment known a “cyber­bullying” was criticized by a House subcommittee this fall. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

New FTC Guidelines Target Bloggers, Raise First Amendment Concerns
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. Continue reading

Media Ethics

Washington Post Delays, Redacts Information From Afghanistan Report
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. Continue reading

Quarrel between Obama Administration, Fox News Intensifies
The relationship between President Barack Obama and the Fox television network, and in particular the Fox News Channel, escalated into a headline­grabbing feud in the fall of 2009, prompting criticism of both the cable network’s politically­charged commentary and the administration’s reaction to Fox’s unfavorable coverage. Continue reading

ACORN Videos Provoke Media Debate, Trigger Lawsuit
A series of hidden­camera 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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Conde Nast Accused of Self­Censorship
In what was widely viewed as an act of self­censorship, 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. Continue reading

Yale University Press Withdraws Controversial Artwork from Book about Danish Cartoons
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. Continue reading


Jury Awards $10 Million in Libel Suit against St. Petersburg Times
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. Continue reading

Endangered Journalists

Military Raid Results in Rescue of New York Times Reporter, Death of Afghan Translator
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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Prior Restraints

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. Continue reading

Student Media

Student Media Roundup: Student Press Tested by Subpoenas, Prior Review, Self- Censorship
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. Continue reading

Silha Events

Award­winning Investigative Reporter Charles Lewis delivers 2009 Silha Lecture
“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. Continue reading

Subpoenas and Shield Laws

Federal Shield Law Passes Senate Committee
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 14–to–5 on Dec. 10, 2009 to present the most recent version of a federal journalist shield bill to the full Senate. Continue reading