Press Releases

Police arrest reporters in Ferguson

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

By Jason Stverak

Last night, police in Ferguson, MO, took unwarranted and questionable action against the free press, arresting two harmless reporters and targeting several others with tear gas. This abuse of power shows how vulnerable the First Amendment remains, nearly 225 years after the Founding Fathers enshrined the rights of journalists in the Constitution.

Regardless of the broader context of unrest in Ferguson, the police’s decision to harass Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of The Huffington Post, to illegally order them to stop videotaping officers, and to arrest and detain the reporters without charge is indefensible. The officers made a mockery of both the free press and the legal system that millions of Americans have laid down their lives to protect.

America is a nation of laws, rights, and freedoms–a place where reporters can cover the government without fear of retribution, and where the government isn’t allowed to lock its citizens up without due process and then pretend it never happened. When an agent of the state decides these freedoms are “optional,” as the Ferguson police did, the foundation of our entire republic is weakened.

Judge Throws Out $85 Million Lawsuit Against Franklin Center

Friday, July 25th, 2014

July 25, 2014
Contact: Michael Moroney
571-385-0774
Michael.moroney@franklincenterhq.org

Alexandria, VA — Yesterday, a federal court in Mississippi dismissed an$85 million lawsuit filed by GreenTech Automotive accusing the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity and Watchdog.org Virginia bureau chief Kenric Ward of defamation and business interference.

“I stand behind our work and had no doubt that GreenTech’s claims would be dismissed,” said Jason Stverak, president of the Franklin Center. “We’ve always believed this lawsuit was merely an attempt to silence the press in an election year. We will remain committed to reporting the truth and exposing waste, fraud and abuse.”

In December 2012, Watchdog.org began a investigation series on Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and his ties to GreenTech Automotive, the “green” car manufacturing company he founded. Watchdog.org then published two articles detailing McAuliffe’s connection with GreenTech, where he had formerly served as chairman. Shortly after publication of those articles, GreenTech filed a lawsuit accusing the Franklin Center and Watchdog.org of defamation, claiming that it lost $85 million in investment capital after the articles were published.

“There’s no denying that defending the First Amendment rights and responsibilities of our reporters has been costly to us in terms of time, people and money,” Stverak said, “but it’s hard to put a price on defending the Constitution.”

GreenTech chose to sue in Mississippi, where the company says it is building an assembly plant. However, GreenTech, its financial arm Gulf Coast Funds Management, and Franklin Center are headquartered in Northern Virginia. The court ruled that the lawsuit, filed against the Franklin Center should not have been filed in Mississippi because the two stories at the center of the suit were focused on Gov. McAuliffe.

“The articles were aimed at McAuliffe and his bid to become Governor of Virginia, and McAuliffe sustained the ‘brunt of the harm’ of the published articles while GreenTech allegedly suffered from the residuary effects of the articles,” said Judge Michael P. Mills.

The judge further noted that Watchdog’s “articles were not aimed at Mississippi” or even GreenTech itself.

“We believe the court’s decision underscores the necessary — and constitutional — role of a press that’s free to investigate the activities of government in America,” said Will Swaim, vice president of journalism at the Franklin Center.

More details about the case are detailed here.

For more information, please contact Michael Moroney at Michael.Moroney@FranklinCenterHQ.org

The Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity is a leader in non-profit journalism. It was founded in 2009 to address falling standards in the media as well as a steep falloff in reporting on state government and provides professional training and assistance with a mission of exposing waste, fraud, and abuse in government.

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Franklin Center Urges Senate to Pass an Equitable, Effective Media Shield Law

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Date: June 23, 2014
Contact: Michael Moroney
571-385-0774
michael.moroney@franklincenterhq.org

Alexandria, VA — Today, the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity sent letters to all 100 U.S. Senators urging them to pass an effective media shield law while voicing concern over the application of protections provided by the Free Flow of Information Act (S.987).

“The recent Supreme Court decision not to hear the appeal of New York Times reporter James Risen is yet another compelling reason for Congress to take action on an effective media shield law,” said Jason Stverak, president of the Franklin Center. “Although Risen should be protected as a journalist under the First Amendment, it’s increasingly clear that the nation’s highest court will not protect journalists like Risen from harassment, subpoenas, and the threat of jail time, simply for doing their job and upholding the ethical standards of the profession.”

FFIA extends much-needed legal protections to journalists, but limits protections to those who fit a very narrow and antiquated definition of a reporter–someone who has been recently employed at an established news outlet. These parameters may have worked in 1996, but today, a great deal of journalism is done online by independent publishers, and the proposed law would allow federal judges to exclude this entire class of reporters from legal protections.

The legislation would extend protections to journalists who have been employees of recognized news organizations for at least one year of the past 20, or three months in the past year, and would also cover some student journalists and freelancers. This definition might have made a little more sense 20 years ago, but the proliferation of new media, blogs, and other web-based publications has rendered the traditional definition of a “journalist” as a newspaper or broadcast employee meaningless.

Trying to define “journalism” as we would “accounting” or some other profession–by salary, education, and place of  employment–is futile, because journalism spans a broader spectrum of pursuits than some politicians may care to recognize. Instead of exacerbating this uncertainty, the Senate should turn its focus to clearly defining the actions that constitute journalism, and extend protections to anyone who engages in these actions while they are actively engaged, hinged on the intent to publish.

“A true media shield law would understand that journalism is an act, not a profession, and protect all those who engage in the activities of journalism with the intent to publish–regardless of their employment status,” said Stverak. “This type of forward-thinking legislation would protect James Risen and every other truth-seeking reporter who builds a relationship with a confidential source, and allow for a stronger and more cohesive Fourth Estate.”

You can find a copy of the letter sent to FFIA sponsor Sen. Chuck Schumer here. Similar letters were sent to other Senators.

For media inquiries, contact Michael Moroney at Michael.moroney@franklincenterhq.org.

The Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity is a leader in non-profit journalism. It was founded in 2009 to address falling standards in the media as well as a steep falloff in reporting on state government and provides professional training and assistance with a mission of exposing waste, fraud, and abuse in government.

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Franklin Center Statement on Supreme Court Decision in Jana Winter Appeal

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

Date: June 3, 2014
Contact: Michael Moroney
571-385-0774
michael.moroney@franklincenterhq.org

Alexandria, VA — Jason Stverak, president of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity made the following statement in response to the Supreme Court’s decision to reject an appeal by the lawyers of James Holmes, the suspect in the Colorado movie theater shooting, in an attempt to force a Fox News reporter to reveal her sources.

“Today’s Supreme Court decision to reject an appeal by the lawyers for Colorado movie theater shooting suspect James Holmes to compel Fox News reporter Jana Winter to reveal confidential sources may seem like a victory for the free press, but in reality, the high court’s refusal to set a clear precedent in defending press freedom more generally is cause for concern. If press freedom isn’t protected, government will operate unchecked.

While the Supreme Court’s decision to punt on this issue was resolved in Winters’s favor, New York Times reporter James Risen was not as lucky. Risen continues to face jail time for refusing to comply with Justice Department orders to reveal his sources. The First Amendment theoretically protects the Fourth Estate, but as the high court refuses to set a clear precedent, reporters remain at risk and the power of the press to hold government accountable is weakened.

The lack of clarity and consistency from the high court demonstrates the glaring need for a federal shield law that protects all reporters from the threats of harassment and subpoena.

A federal media shield law, similar to laws on the books in 48 states and the District of Columbia, would offer clearly defined protections from subpoena to reporters like Winter and Risen, keeping their fate out of the hands of an inconsistent judiciary and strengthening their First Amendment rights as members of the free press. This legislation should protect all those who engage in the actions of journalism with the intent to publish from undue government harassment, and enshrine the confidential relationship between a reporter and their source.

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Franklin Center Statement on Shield Law Amendment

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

June 4, 2014
Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity
Press Contact: Michael Moroney
Michael.Moroney@franklincenterhq.org

 

Alexandria, Va—Today Jason Stverak, president of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity made the following statement in response to the House of Representatives’ addition of a media shield amendment to H.R. 4660,

“In the wake of recent court rulings that threaten the central ethics of journalism, the House of Representatives’ addition of a media shield amendment to H.R. 4660, a federal appropriations bill, is a step in the right direction. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL)’s amendment to the 2015 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Act would prohibit funding for the Department of Justice to force reporters to disclose confidential sources in court–protecting these reporters from harassment, subpoenas, and the threat of jail time.

The relationship between a journalist and his or her source is central to the ethical code of journalism, and 48 states have laws on the books preventing courts from ordering reporters to betraying the trust of their confidential sources. The federal government offers no such protections, however, and reporters are routinely threatened with jail time simply for doing their jobs–most recently James Risen of the New York Times.

The House’s action is a step in the right direction, and is a more promising development than other recently-proposed media shield bills, including the Free Flow of Information Act (S. 987), which is pending action in the Senate. S. 987 bill limits those protections to those who fit a very narrow and antiquated definition of a reporter–someone who has been recently employed at an established news outlet.

An effective media shield law would take into account that journalism is an act, not a profession, and protect all those who engage in the activities of journalism with the intent to publish–regardless of their employment status. This type of forward-thinking legislation would protect James Risen and every other truth-seeking reporter who builds a relationship with a confidential source, and allow for a stronger and more cohesive Fourth Estate.”

For media inquiries, please contact Michael Moroney at Michael.Moroney@FranklinCenterHQ.org or 571-385-0774

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Franklin Center Statement on SCOTUS Denial of James Risen’s Appeal

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

June 2, 2014
Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity
Press Contact: Michael Moroney
Michael.Moroney@franklincenterhq.org

 

Alexandria, Va—Today Jason Stverak, president of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity made the following statement in response to the Supreme Court’s decision to reject the appeal of New York Times reporter James Risen. Mr. Stverak also highlighted the need for an effective media shield law that protects all those committing journalistic acts with the intent to publish.

“The Supreme Court’s decision to reject the appeal of New York Times reporter James Risen is yet another compelling reason for Congress to take action on an effective media shield law. Although Risen should be protected as a journalist under the First Amendment, it’s increasingly clear that the nation’s highest court will not protect journalists like Risen from harassment, subpoenas, and the threat of jail time, simply for doing their job and upholding the ethical standards of the profession.”

“A federal shield law would codify the confidential relationship between a reporter and a source, and prevent the government from forcing the reporter to disclose sources in a public court.”

“Unfortunately, the proposed media shield law presently under consideration in the U.S. Senate is an ineffectual, toothless piece of legislation that would only create arbitrary divisions within the reporting community.”

“The Free Flow of Information Act (S. 987) extends much-needed legal protections to journalists, but limits those protections to those who fit a very narrow and antiquated definition of a reporter–someone who has been recently employed at an established news outlet. These parameters may have worked in 1996, but today, a great deal of journalism is done online by independent publishers, and the proposed law would allow federal judges to exclude this entire class of reporters from legal protections.”

“A true media shield law would understand that journalism is an act, not a profession, and protect all those who engage in the activities of journalism with the intent to publish–regardless of their employment status. This type of forward-thinking legislation would protect James Risen and every other truth-seeking reporter who builds a relationship with a confidential source, and allow for a stronger and more cohesive Fourth Estate.”

For media inquiries, please contact Michael Moroney at Michael.Moroney@FranklinCenterHQ.org or 571-385-0774

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New Jersey Watchdog Wins New York Press Club Award

Monday, May 12th, 2014

May 12, 2014
Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity
Press Contact: Michael Moroney
Michael.Moroney@franklincenterhq.org

 

New Jersey Watchdog Wins New York Press Club Award

Alexandria, Va—New Jersey Watchdog, an investigative news site of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, has won a New York Press Club Award for political coverage for the second consecutive year.

The winning entry, by reporter Mark Lagerkvist, was “Three Stooges of NJ Disability Pensions” which took an investigative look at three New Jersey police officers receiving questionable disability pensions.

New Jersey Watchdog’s investigation received national media attention and caused one retiree to be stripped of his pension.

“We are very proud that Mark is being honored for the ground-breaking work he is doing in New Jersey,” said Jason Stverak, president of the Franklin Center. “His investigations have shed light onto a system that has been abused for years.”

The New York Press Club Awards will be presented on Monday, June 9, at the Press Club’s Awards Presentation Dinner at Manhattan’s Water Club. You can view all the NYPC award winners here.

For media inquiries, contact Michael Moroney at Michael.Moroney@FranklinCenterHQ.org.

The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity is a leader in non-profit journalism. It was founded in 2009 to address falling standards in the media as well as a steep falloff in reporting on state government and provides professional training and assistance with a mission of exposing waste, fraud, and abuse in government.

 

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Watchdog.org Takes Home Six Awards at the Virginia Press Association’s Annual Conference

Monday, April 7th, 2014

April 7, 2014
Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity
Press Contact; Michael Moroney
Michael.Moroney@franklincenterhq.org

Watchdog.org Takes Home Six Awards at the Virginia Press Association’s Annual Conference

Alexandria, Va.– Two reporters from Watchdog.org’s Virginia Bureau won six awards–including two for first place–in the 2013 News/Editorial and Advertising Contest for the Virginia Press Association (VPA) on Saturday.

Watchdog reporter Katie Watson earned a “Best in Show” for her series on the lack of government transparency surrounding the Gov. Bob McDonnell scandal.

“Our Virginia Bureau does phenomenal work every day,” said Will Swaim, editor of Watchdog.org. “The Virginia Press Association is very prestigious, and it’s encouraging to see our reporters recognized for their efforts.”

In awarding her “Best in Show,” a judge commended Watson’s “good, solid writing on a story with national implications.”

“One of the things that set this entry apart is that the writer managed to tell each episode of the story in few enough words that readers could stay engaged until the end,” the judge concluded. “Just because there is unlimited online space does not mean a reporter should try to fill it all. The writing is tight, the reporting thorough.”

Watson also received first place in “General News Writing” for her series of stories on the scandal over Gov. McDonnell’s lack of transparency as he billed taxpayers for his legal fees. Watson also won first place in “Business and Financial Writing” for stories on state pension and budget woes, and won second place in “Government Writing.”

“Transparency for the taxpaying public is what my work and our work at Watchdog.org is all about,” said Watson. “Receiving these awards from the Virginia Press Association is definitely an honor, but so is getting to report on government waste, fraud and abuse—what’s wrong with the status quo—for Virginians every single day.”

Kenric Ward, Watchdog.org’s Virginia Bureau Chief, received second place in the “Public Safety” category for his extensive investigations into government involvement in the drone industry. He also received third place in the “Government” category.

“It’s an honor to be recognized for my investigative work,” said Ward. “It’s important that the public hear these stories, as well as the rest of the journalism community. Hopefully this award will bring attention to them.”

Watchdog.org competed in the online journalism division. The awards were announced and given out at the VPA’s annual conference and awards ceremony.

“I’m very proud of Kenric and Katie, and I couldn’t be happier that the Virginia Press Association is recognizing their work,” said Jason Stverak, president of the Franklin Center. “Watchdog.org’s Virginia Bureau is successfully providing deep investigative journalism, fighting for transparency, and holding government officials accountable.”

The VPA, which was incorporated by the Virginia General Assembly in 1881, is the premier media association for journalists in the Old Dominion. The winners of the contest are chosen by journalists from media associations in other states.

For media inquires, contact Michael Moroney at Michael.Moroney@franklincenterhq.org.

The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity is a leader in non-profit journalism. It was founded in 2009 to address falling standards in the media as well as a steep falloff in reporting on state government and provides professional training and assistance with a mission of exposing waste, fraud, and abuse in government.

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Franklin Center Launches Blogger Fellowship Program

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

April 1, 2014
Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity
Press Contact: Michael Moroney
Michael.Moroney@franklincenterhq.org

Franklin Center Launches Blogger Fellowship Program

Alexandria, Va.—Today, the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity launched its Blogger Fellowship initiative, a six-month blogging and social media program. Each blogger accepted will write posts on subjects related to government inefficiency and corruption. Additionally, they will promote their work via a variety of new media tools, including YouTube, Twitter, and Google Hangouts. The Franklin Center will assist each blogger in promoting his or her work through podcasts, radio, or TV interviews.

“We’ve created the fellowship to train and highlight promising individuals who have a background in investigative journalism, said Franklin Center Senior Vice President Erik Telford. “The program will help them build external capacities and learn the art of distributing and promoting their work in the world of new media.”

 

The inaugural fellows for the program will be Ben Howe and Amelia Hamilton. Howe is the director of the recent documentary Bankrupt: How Cronyism and Corruption Took Down Detroit and founder of Mister Smith Media. He will cover the Detroit bailout and bankruptcy, and report on the policies and politics that are contributing to its fiscal crisis. He’ll also cover other cities across the United States going down the same path as Detroit, and investigate the causes of mass population exodus in other regions of the country.

“This program is a great opportunity for bloggers interested in investigative work like me,” said Howe. “I’m glad to have the Franklin Center supporting me and promoting my work as I continue to cover the devastating effects of cronyism and corruption on cities like Detroit.”

Hamilton is the author of the children’s books One Nation Under God: A Book for Little Patriots and Ten Steps to Freedom: A Growing Patriot’s Guide to the American Revolution, and holds a master’s degree in both English and 18th-century history from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

“I’m honored to be one of Franklin Center’s inaugural blogger fellows.” said Hamilton. “I’ve always been passionate about writing and showing how policies affect real people and, through this program, I’m hoping to take my work to the next level.”

“We’re very excited to have Ben and Amelia as our first blogger fellows,” said Telford. “Their work on a variety of important issues is just the kind of journalism this country needs, and we look forward to helping them take it to the next level.”

For media inquiries, contact Michael Moroney at Michael.Moroney@franklincenterhq.org.

The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity is a leader in non-profit journalism. It was founded in 2009 to address falling standards in the media as well as a steep falloff in reporting on state government and provides professional training and assistance with a mission of exposing waste, fraud, and abuse in government.

 

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Franklin Center Statement on Flawed Media Shield Law

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

Date: March 27, 2014
Press Contact: Michael Moroney
Office: 571-385-0774
Michael.moroney@franklincenterhq.org

Franklin Center Statement on Flawed Media Shield Law

Alexandria, VA — Today, Franklin Center president Jason Stverak made the following statement in response to Sen. Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) deeply flawed Media Shield Law, S. 987: The Free Flow of Information Act.

“As encouraging as it was to see Congress take up the cause of protecting journalists, I’m incredibly disappointed by news that the Senate may pass such a weak and ineffectual law. S. 987 would erect artificial divides between the diverse network of journalists who serve their communities, shielding only those who work for established media organizations.

“The law’s parameters focus on a reporter’s salary, employer, and frequency of publication, excluding those who do not fit the traditional mold of a journalist. This naive and narrow-minded understanding of how the media operate protects establishment interests at the expense of bloggers, freelancers, citizen reporters, and other new-media journalists.

“Instead of trying to define who is and isn’t a journalist, Congress should protect the actions of journalism–researching, reporting, writing, and publishing–within clearly defined contexts. A shield law based on action instead of labels would protect everyone who serves as a journalist, not just a select few.”

For media inquires, contact Michael Moroney at Michael.moroney@franklincenterhq.org.

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