Members of the news media survey damaged equipment outside the U.S. Capitol a day after supporters of President Donald Trump occupied the building in Washington, U.S., January 7, 2021. (Reuters/Erin Scott)

CPJ calls for accountability for attacks on media during US Capitol assault

New York, January 8, 2021—U.S. authorities must thoroughly investigate the many attacks on journalists during the violent takeover of the U.S. Capitol this week, and hold the perpetrators to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. 

On January 6, supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. as both houses of Congress were certifying the electoral victory of President-elect Joe Biden. Reporters and photographers from outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Politico have published accounts of the mob assaulting or threatening them or smashing news equipment.

“The violence displayed toward the media during the assault on the United States Capitol has no place in a democracy. Individuals who threatened and assaulted journalists must be held accountable for their actions,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna, who leads CPJ’s collaboration with the News Leaders Association on the U.S. Press Freedom Accountability Project.

“For the past four years, the Trump administration has lobbed attacks against individual and institutional news media. As the world has now witnessed, this rhetoric is not just a political diversion — it can embolden mobs to attack reporters who are simply trying to do their job of keeping the public informed,” Martinez de la Serna said.

In one example of the violence, Trump supporters pulled Associated Press photographer John Minchillo down a series of steps, repeatedly hit and shoved him, and threatened to kill him, according to a video of the assault that Minchillo’s AP colleague Julio Cortez posted to his Instagram account. Yesterday, Amanda Andrade-Rhoades, a freelance photojournalist on assignment for The Washington Post, told CPJ that three people threatened to shoot her.

Legislators are planning a “minute-by-minute” investigation into the failure of law enforcement to curb the assault on the Capitol, Rep. Tim Ryan, the chair of the subcommittee that funds the Capitol Police, said yesterday, according to BuzzFeed News. The chief of the Capitol police, Steven Sund, resigned in the wake of the attack, according to news reports. The White House and the Capitol Police Department did not respond to CPJ’s emailed requests for comment.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, of which CPJ is a founding partner, is investigating several assaults on journalists, as well as reports of equipment damage, threats, and harassment. 

CPJ monitors protests in Washington and around the country. Journalists can:

  • Consult CPJ’s safety notes for advice on covering civil unrest
  • Contact [email protected] with questions or reports of violations
  • Utilize the legal hotline of Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP): 1-800-336-4243

[Editor’s note: The dateline has been corrected to reflect the correct date of publication.]