Editor Chauncey Bailey was gunned down three blocks from his Oakland, Calif., office in August, becoming the first U.S. journalist killed for his work in six years. Bailey, editor-in-chief of the Oakland Post and four other weeklies focusing on the San Francisco Bay Area’s African-American communities, was targeted after investigating the alleged criminal activities of a local business, Your Black Muslim Bakery. One suspect, bakery worker Devaughndre Broussard, was arrested. He reportedly confessed to killing Bailey with a sawed-off shotgun, although his lawyer said the statement was made under duress. Journalists across the country later formed an ad hoc group to investigate the crime, the first on-duty killing since the 2001 deaths of one journalist in the terrorist attack on New York’s World Trade Center and another in a Florida anthrax attack.
Other journalists covering issues involving minority communities came under threat. Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. received dozens of threatening phone calls and hundreds of intimidating e-mails in June. After he wrote a column about race, crime, and perceived media bias, Pitts’ home address and telephone number had been posted on a Web site featuring swastikas and photos of the Nazi Heinrich Himmler.
Police assaulted several reporters covering a May immigration rights rally in Los Angeles. Patricia Nazario of KPCC Radio, Carlos Botifoll of Telemundo, the Miami-based, Spanish-language television station, and Patricia Ballaz of KTTV-TV were struck with batons. Ballaz suffered a broken wrist. Another journalist, cameraman Carl Stein of KCAL-TV, said police threw him and his camera to the ground. The Los Angeles Press Club protested the attacks in a letter to Police Chief William J. Bratton. The Los Angeles Police Department later issued a report saying police acted improperly; investigations into the actions of individual officers were to be completed in 2008.
In New York, two Urdu-language editors and their publications were targeted. The publisher and editor of the Urdu Times, Khalil-ur-Rehman, was threatened on May 23 as he was leaving the newspaper’s printing facility; the journalist said he recognized the man as a Pakistani-American with alleged criminal ties. The following day, two men threatened the editor-in-chief of the Pakistan Post, Mahammed A. Farooqi, on a Brooklyn street and, just five hours later, in front of the journalist’s Long Island home. By then, at least 10,000 copies of each Urdu-language newspaper had been swept up from their distribution racks, the editors told CPJ. Many of the copies were later found illegally dumped. CPJ wrote a letter to New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, urging police to thoroughly investigate the threats and wholesale destruction of the newspapers. Police immediately assigned an Urdu-speaking officer to investigate the case, and a Bloomberg spokesman said that “no one has a right to prevent other people from making their viewpoints known.”
Other journalists faced challenges in the courts. Two San Francisco Chronicle reporters avoided going to jail in February after a confidential source came forward. Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada had faced up to 18 months in prison for refusing to name the person who provided them with secret grand jury testimony about alleged steroid use by baseball’s home run king, Barry Bonds, and other top athletes. A defense lawyer named Troy Ellerman was later sentenced to two and half years in prison for leaking the transcripts, although the reporters did not confirm that he was the source. Bonds was indicted in November for allegedly lying in his grand jury testimony.
Freelance journalist Josh Wolf was released in April from a federal penitentiary in California after spending 226 days in jail, making him the longest-imprisoned journalist in U.S. history. The independent video blogger was incarcerated after refusing to turn over unedited footage and testify to a federal grand jury investigating vandalism to a police car during a July 2005 protest in San Francisco.
With these and other media subpoena cases in mind, Congressional lawmakers introduced shield legislation that would provide journalists some protection from revealing confidential sources in court. More than 50 media companies and press groups organized by the Newspaper Association of America supported a bill introduced by Sens. Arlen Specter and Charles Schumer, although many journalists said the measure included too many exceptions. Legislation was pending in late year.
U.S. authorities continued to imprison two foreign journalists. Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein, a member of the AP photography team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005, was jailed in Iraq in April 2006 for “imperative reasons of security,” according to military officials. The AP said its own investigation found no basis for the detention. In November, the U.S. military said it would refer the case to the Iraqi justice system for possible prosecution. The military cited alleged links between Hussein and Iraqi insurgents but disclosed no evidence to support the accusation.
Sami al-Haj, a Sudanese cameraman for Al-Jazeera, was said to be in deteriorating health as he completed his sixth year in custody. Al-Haj, the only known journalist imprisoned at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantánamo Bay, was first detained at the Pakistani-Afghan border in December 2001 while covering the U.S.-led fight to oust the Taliban. U.S. military officials made vague accusations that al-Haj worked as a financial courier for armed groups and assisted al-Qaeda and extremist figures. Al-Haj’s attorneys said the accusations were baseless and that U.S. interrogators were instead focused on obtaining intelligence on Al-Jazeera. Al-Haj refused food for much of the year to protest his treatment; he was force-fed through a tube inserted through his nose.
In May, CPJ and the National Press Club sponsored a panel, moderated by columnist and CPJ board member Clarence Page, to draw attention to the Hussein and al-Haj cases. Numerous national and international news outlets reported on the cases throughout the year.
U.S.-based Internet companies sought to improve their images after the roles they played in helping China identify and, in some cases, imprison online journalists. Press freedom and human rights groups, along with investors, legal experts, and representatives of Yahoo, Microsoft, and Google, worked jointly on a voluntary code of conduct for technology companies that would safeguard free expression and privacy for Web users. No agreement was reached during the year.
The conduct of Internet corporations came under intense scrutiny after China arrested journalist Shi Tao for “leaking state secrets” in an e-mail in which he described an official propaganda directive. A Yahoo subsidiary helped Chinese authorities trace the source of the e-mail. Shi, a 2005 CPJ International Press Freedom Awardee, was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in jail. In November, a Congressional committee harshly criticized Yahoo Chief Executive Officer Jerry Yang and General Counsel Michael Callahan for the company’s actions and its failure to disclose all it knew about the case in an earlier hearing on the Hill.
The beleaguered Federal Emergency Management Agency was widely derided in October after staging a “press conference” in which agency workers posed as reporters and asked Deputy Administrator Harvey E. Johnson Jr. a series of mild-mannered questions.
For reasons that were not fully explained, the agency had scheduled the conference on 15 minutes’ notice to discuss its response to wildfires in California. With such short notice, no reporters were able to attend, and agency workers filled the breach. The event was carried live on cable news channels. Johnson later apologized “for this error in judgment.” Two public relations officials left the administration shortly afterward.