May 23, 2018

The federal judge minced no words.

“No government official — including the President — is above the law.”

With that, U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald declared that President Trump violates the First Amendment when he blocks critics on Twitter for political speech. Since Trump took an oath to uphold the law, he should follow her declaration of the law, she reasoned.

Buchwald ruled that Twitter was a public forum, rejecting counter-arguments from the Justice Department that Trump acts in a personal manner, much like "giving a toast at a wedding or giving a speech at a fundraiser," when he uses his longstanding @realDonaldTrump account (the official @POTUS handle created during Barack Obama's presidency also transitioned to Trump on Inauguration Day).

Nope, said the judge in a 75-page opinion

“The President presents the @realDonaldTrump account as being a presidential account as opposed to a personal account and, more importantly, uses the account to take actions that can be taken only by the President as President,” she wrote. 

The judge also pointed out that the space below a Trump tweet, often with hundreds of respondents, is certainly a public forum. Blocking critics prevents them from participating in those “mentions.”

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which brought the suit on behalf of seven Trump-blocked critics, had a cautiously hopeful response. “We hope this ruling will bring it to an end,” said executive director Jameel Jaffer. He called Trump’s blocking of Twitter critics “pernicious and unconstitutional.”

One of the blocked critics, journalist Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza, the judicial affairs editor of DailyKos, reacted succinctly on Twitter: 

But will it end here? Will Trump simply “mute” his critics on Twitter, as the judge allows? Will he — or the person running @realDonaldTrump — have to unblock all his critics? The harder question: Can he break a lifetime of working the refs, of thinking of himself as above the law?

A follow-up suggestion: ProPublica notes governors and agencies that have blocked at least 1,300 critics on Twitter and Facebook. Are your elected officials doing that? Here’s how you can find out.

Globe investigates allegation involving top editor

Two senior officials at the Boston Globe told employees that the company was investigating social media allegations of “an inappropriate text exchange” between Globe editor Brian McGrory and a former editor for its Boston.com website.

The officials, Linda Henry, Globe managing director, and Vinay Mehra, Globe president, said it was unclear when this alleged exchange took place. (Disclosure: I worked at the Globe from 1998 to 2010.)

McGrory said he once dated Hilary Sargent, but long before she came to work at the website from 2014 to 2016. In a message to the staff, he said he cannot recall such a text and has asked her to provide more information. 

“I have never harassed Hilary Sargent or any other women at the Globe or anywhere else — ever,” he wrote.

Sargent responded in an email to a Globe reporter: “If Brian McGrory truly does not believe he has ever acted inappropriately with anyone at The Boston Globe, then he and I have a remarkably different understanding of what is — and is not — appropriate.”

Quick hits

PUBLIC AFFAIRS: The Environmental Protection Agency stopped reporters from attending a conference about unsafe drinking water in America for a second straight day. How bad are the EPA's press relations? Here’s a paragraph from CNN: “When specifically asked if he thought it was proper for the journalist to be shoved out of the venue by security, [EPA spokesman Jahan] Wilcox did not reply.” Readers, what suggestions do you have to access to public hearings by officials you pay with your tax dollars? Email me at dbeard@poynter.org.

NOT PLUNDER: Using garbage bags on the frontlines of the war against ISIS, The New York Times' Rukmini Callimachi scooped up more than 15,000 pages of documents from paper and hard drives left behind by the extremist group. The information has been critical to her brilliant reporting and successful podcast, “Caliphate.” Rejecting an accusation of plunder by The Intercept, Callimachi told me Wednesday that the plan all along had been to digitize and to share any documents she recovered. “A newsroom colleague has been appointed to work on finding a partner to help us do this,” she said.

THEY PAY TO SUPPORT US: What do members, subscribers, donors and volunteers think about the news outlets they support? Emily Goligoski, research director for the Membership Puzzle Project, helped with in-depth interviews of more than 200 supporters and offers the following: a) Involve me like you mean it; b) Tell us who you are, what you’re working on, how the outlet is doing; c) don’t be a know-it-all; tell us, humbly, what you’re trying to figure out; d) don’t waste my time; e) deliver something different from the normal menu; f) always work in the public interest. Goligoski, research director of the Membership Puzzle, suggests this and this to get started on learning about your audiences.

NAMED: Pulitzer-winning journalist, educator, trainer and narrative guru Jacqui Banaszynski is the new editor of Nieman Storyboard, an online site that highlights, promotes and explores the craft of nonfiction storytelling. Banaszynski, a faculty fellow at the Poynter Institute, begins June 1 on the site, part of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard.

WHERE ARE 35-54 YEAR-OLDS GOING?: No wisecracks, we’re talking about TV news consumption. Much of the TV audience is 55 or older, and younger folks are getting news from social media outlets, the Knight Foundation’s Karen Rundlet writes. The migration from TV in the 35-54 age group, particularly in bigger markets, is … to where? “From the research,” Rundlet writes, “we don’t know where or if they are getting local news.”

AND THEN THERE WAS ONE: A newspaper owned by widely criticized hedge fund Alden Global Capital is down to one reporter, the L.A. Business Journal reported. The other three journalists at the 121-year-old Long Beach Press-Telegram quit on Monday and plan to start a new publication for the California city of 470,000. The Long Beach paper, part of the Southern California News Group that includes the Orange County Register and the Los Angeles Daily News, will be hiring to replace the departed journalists, said Daniel Tedford, assistant managing editor of digital news for the newspaper group.

BETTER CONVERSATIONS: Last year, because of its strict moderating standards, The New York Times was able to offer comments on only about 10 percent of its articles. Now, using machine learning, it’s closer to 30 percent, using a free tool developed by Google and Jigsaw.

THE BIG MEDIA UNIVERSE: Think AT&T, Verizon, Disney, Comcast. Recode broke it all down in one image.

THE COST OF SPEAKING FOR TRUMP: You want consistency? Integrity? Trust? That may be difficult while being a spokesperson for Donald Trump. By “This Town” author Mark Leibovich.

SAFETY FIRST: A Cincinnati television station was lambasted by viewers when they cut into the finale of “American Idol” for a tornado warning, Adweek reported. WCPO covered the potentially threatening event for 30 minutes Monday night, earning the wrath of viewers. Even after assuring viewers they could watch the finale on Saturday night, station employees faced criticism for pre-empting the show to help save lives. “Repeatedly, we got the question: Why would you do that?” the station’s digital producers said in an online message.

What we’re reading

ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER ‘PAYMENT?’: The BBC reports that Ukraine paid Michael Cohen, Trump’s “fixer,” $400,000 to set up talks with the American president last year.

HOME AT LAST: At her high school, before more than 100 of her pupils and teachers, principal Gloria Marchant took her oath of citizenship. Born in Chile, raised in Canada, the 44-year-old Marchant jumped at the chance to host the ceremony at her San Jose school. “Many of the students are on the path to citizenship themselves, and it’s a long journey,” Marchant told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Sophie Haigney. “That makes this really meaningful.”

WAR AGAINST WOMEN: Why did U.S. ally Saudi Arabia detain 10 women's rights activists? The Associated Press’ Aya Batrawy reports seven of them had applied to start an NGO and shelter to help victims of domestic abuse. Here are profiles of those detained.

FOR THE DORIAS OF THE WORLD: A Chicago mom's poem about self-sacrifice, motherhood, race and triumph, inspired by Doria Ragland and her daughter Meghan Markle 's royal wedding, has struck a chord worldwide. Leslé Honoré had no idea what her 300 words could do, writes the Chicago Tribune’s Mary Schmich.

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