January 25, 2017 Last Updated 8:21 am

New administration censors government agencies, staff fight back; state legislatures propose new laws to punish protestors

Morning Brief: Publisher’s ability to cover the news, and citizen’s right to protest, under threat as the new administration and Republican controlled state legislatures team up to propose new regulations against protest and news and information dissemination

The news media today finds itself in a bind, covering too much news, with too much coming at them and their readers, to properly convey the importance of what they are writing. Today, for instance, the NYT’s website showed a number of stories, any one of which could have led the paper today. And because the news media is being flooded, none of the stories could take precedence, none ended up with the five column headline it deserved because it would diminish the importance of the others.

Then, this morning, another story: the new president is promising to investigate voter fraud, attempting to back up his so far unsubstantiated claim that 2 to 3 million votes were cast fraudulently.

Lost in all the noise may be the one story involving the president and the media, that Donald Trump tweeted his job that Fox News ratings were up, and again criticizing CNN’s coverage. “Congratulations to @FoxNews for being number one in inauguration ratings. They were many times higher than FAKE NEWS @CNN – public is smart!” wrote the president.

There were reports that the president had his Android phone taken away. It appears he has it back.

One could assume that all this front page news involves politics and none of it the concern of publishers. Yet much of the news centers around the availability of news and information. Yesterday, word was spread that government agencies would be prevented with communicating with the public unless approved by the president. Immediately several agencies began to tweet out inconvenient information such as the build-up of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The Twitter account for a national park went, for a time, rogue. Then was shutdown, though soon an alternative twitter account was started up.

It is almost impossible to tell whether those that start up new Twitter accounts really are members of the agency being gagged, and that will cause issues when they tweet out information the administration wants suppressed. Is the information valid? Who is saying it? Is it disinformation?

Associated Press, Michael Biesecker and John Flesher:

President Trump institutes media blackout at EPA

The Trump administration has instituted a media blackout at the Environmental Protection Agency and barred staff from awarding any new contracts or grants, part of a broader communications clampdown within the executive branch.

A summary of the actions posted in the Federal Register includes a long list of regulations that include updated air pollution rulings for several states, renewable fuel standards and limits on the amount of formaldehyde that can leach from wood products. President Trump signed a directive shortly after his inauguration on Friday ordering a ‘‘regulatory freeze pending review’’ for all federal agency rules that had been finalized that have not yet taken effect.

The New York Times, Ronnell Andersen Jones and Sonja R. West:

Don’t Expect the First Amendment to Protect the Media

When President Trump declared on Saturday that reporters are “among the most dishonest human beings on earth,” it was not the first time he had disparaged the press. Nor was it out of character when, later that same day, his press secretary threatened “to hold the press accountable” for reporting truthful information that was unflattering to Mr. Trump. Episodes like these have become all too common in recent weeks. So it’s comforting to know that the Constitution serves as a reliable stronghold against Mr. Trump’s assault on the press.

Except that it doesn’t. The truth is, legal protections for press freedom are far feebler than you may think. Even more worrisome, they have been weakening in recent years…

…We cannot simply sit back and expect that the First Amendment will rush in to preserve the press, and with it our right to know. Like so much of our democracy, the freedom of the press is only as strong as we, the public, demand it to be.

Republicans are not happy with the success of the Women’s March and appear ready to do something about it. Their approach is novel, and one that may well succeed: target state legislatures with bills that would target protestors, either physically or financially.

Minnesota was the first, where Republicans want to fine protestors for blocking traffic. The Star Tribune, Minnesota’s largest newspaper, today did an excellent job recapping efforts to cut off protests, not only in their state, but in states such as Indiana, North Dakota, and elsewhere.

The Star Tribune, Randy Furst:

Bill to crack down on Minnesota protesters appears to be national trend

A confrontation between protesters and legislators in St. Paul on Tuesday underscored the nation’s deepening political divide in which lawmakers in at least eight states are considering crackdowns on demonstrations.

Chants and shouting erupted after a House committee voted to pass a GOP-led measure that could make protesters financially liable if police must intervene.

Minnesota is joining a growing number of states looking to discourage large, disruptive protests.

Measures aimed at toughening laws against demonstrators have been introduced in North Dakota, Iowa, Michigan, Indiana, Colorado, Virginia and Washington state as protests have proliferated in recent months over issues ranging from police shootings to oil pipelines.

The Guardian, Joanna Walters:

Indiana bill would allow police to shut down protests ‘by any means necessary’

A bill that would require public officials in Indiana to dispatch law enforcement swiftly to remove any protesters blocking traffic by “any means necessary” prompted uproar on Wednesday.

Opponents of the bill, introduced by a Republican state senator, rushed to the general assembly in Indianapolis on Wednesday afternoon to attend a hearing for the legislation, arguing that it could give a green light to the police to shut down protests harshly “even to the point of costing lives”.

The proposed law, simply labelled Senate Bill 285, or SB 285, and designed to deal with “traffic obstruction by protestors” would go into effect in July if passed.

The Washington Post, Peggy McGlone:

Newseum lays off 26 employees, about 10 percent of staff, as financial struggles continue

The Newseum laid off 26 employees Tuesday as part of an ongoing effort to improve its financial health, officials confirmed.

The cuts represent about 10 percent of the 230-member staff, and are the first under president and chief executive Jeffrey Herbst. The former president of Colgate University became the chief executive of the museum in August of 2015.

The latest round of layoffs suggest the finances of the journalism museum remain shaky, as they have ever since it moved from a small space in Arlington to a gigantic building on Pennsylvania Avenue in the District. Herbst declined to specify what positions were cut, how many were full-time and how much savings would be realized.

The stories above involve the media and ignore stories such as the threat by the new president to send in the Feds into Chicago, a threat apparently originating from the fact that Fox News host Bill O-Reilly said something about Chicago shootings on his show last night, so the president naturally reacted.

Yesterday, in the UK, the Supreme Court ruled that Parliament must weigh in before the UK can trigger Article 50, the motion that is necessary to begin the process of the UK leaving the European Union. The ruling may have enormous consequences. For one thing, because the court did not say that Scotland’s parliament would be required to weigh in, proponents of Scottish independence pounced.

BBC News:

Brexit: Supreme Court says Parliament must give Article 50 go-ahead

Parliament must vote on whether the government can start the Brexit process, the Supreme Court has ruled.

The judgement means Theresa May cannot begin talks with the EU until MPs and peers give their backing – although this is expected to happen in time for the government’s 31 March deadline.

But the court ruled the Scottish Parliament and Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies did not need a say.

Reuters, Elisabeth O’Leary:

Scotland’s Sturgeon raises independence specter after court ruling

Nicola Sturgeon raised the specter of another Scottish independence referendum after Britain’s Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that the devolved assembly in Edinburgh did not need to be consulted on triggering Brexit.

“This raises fundamental issues above and beyond that of EU membership,” the Scottish First Minister said.

“Is Scotland content for our future to be dictated by an increasingly right-wing Westminster government with just one MP (lawmaker) here,” she asked. “Or is it better that we take our future into our own hands?

“It is becoming ever clearer that this is a choice that Scotland must make,” she added.

And speaking of Scotland: today marks the 200th anniversary of the founding of The Scotsman. Founded on this day in 1817, the paper is today owned by Johnston Press and is struggling, with a circulation of somewhere around 20K, or less if you count full price copies.

In 2015, John McGurk, former editor of The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday, wrote:

The harsh reality is that lack of resource and precious few editorial staff makes it hugely difficult to produce a newspaper which stands out from the other 16 daily newspapers on sale in Scotland.

Too many front pages are a summary of the previous night’s television news, a formula for further readership decline.

Those who continue to produce a paper are to be applauded; there are desperate circumstances to overcome every day and a constant threat of more job losses.

The Scotsman is an old friend…it’s miserable and painful to watch it suffer much longer.

Sadly, the paper may not make it past its 200th anniversary, not without new ownership and a cash infusion. But who would invest in a declining newspaper in a crowded market? Is there a Scottish Jeff Bezos that could reverse this situation?

The Scotsman, Martyn McLaughlin:

Scotsman 200: The Queen and Nicola Sturgeon lead anniversary tributes

The newspaper was founded by solicitor William Ritchie and customs official Charles Maclaren, under the guiding principles of “impartiality, firmness and independence”, which to this day are printed at the head of its leader articles.

Its first edition was published on 25 January 1817, a year in which plans for the Union Canal were ratified, Jane Austen died at the age of 41, and George III was monarch.

Two centuries on, as the title marks its 53,220th edition, his great-great-great-great granddaughter has commended The Scotsman’s present-day staff on the historic milestone. In a letter to Ian Stewart, editorial director of The Scotsman, the Queen wrote: “I was most interested to learn that The Scotsman is today celebrating its bicentenary as a national Scottish newspaper. Please convey my congratulations to all those on the newspaper’s staff, and my good wishes to your readers in Scotland and elsewhere, as you mark this significant anniversary.”

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