Watchdog newsletter

Published — June 19, 2020

One week, two historic SCOTUS rulings

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students celebrate in front of the Supreme Court after it rejected President Donald Trump's effort to end legal protections for young immigrants. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)


Hi Watchdogs, and welcome back to your favorite newsletter 👋 There’s a lot of news to catch up on. The Supreme Court issued some historic rulings in a week. (I’m still shooketh thinking about it.) We also delve into climate change as a public health issue and another one of our spicy lawsuits and some news that could involve our Ukraine documents. 🌶️ 

Happy Juneteenth! The holiday might be something your high school textbook skipped over. It commemorates the end of slavery for African Americans in Texas, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. The Texas Tribune writes about how this year, Juneteenth takes on a new meaning for Black Texans. 

P.S. President Trump rescheduled his rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, amid concerns about the coronavirus and respect for Juneteenth. The rally was previously scheduled for Friday. (via CNN) 

🔥The court was coming in hot this week: LGBTQ+ employees and DACA recipients might be breathing a little bit easier for now. But not without some caveats. 

🏳️‍🌈 First up, workplace protections: Anti-discrimination laws are such a patchwork in the U.S. that, in many states, employers could legally fire workers for being LGBTQ+. Earlier this week, SCOTUS changed that. (Tweet this story) 

Case in point (get it?): While working at an auto dealership in Billings, Montana, Kathleen O’Donnell said she endured nasty comments from co-workers and was later fired for being gay. If she worked just a two-hour drive away in Bozeman, she would have been protected by the city’s ordinance against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. (Tweet this story) 

Plot twist: Conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion: “Only the written word is the law, and all persons are entitled to its benefit.” 

While the court issued protections for LGBTQ+ workers, the decision also came around the same time the Trump administration reversed transgender health protections. (via NPR) 

A little closer to the Dream: SCOTUS also ruled that the Trump administration can’t end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program or DACA, which provides protections for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. (Tweet this story) 

Another plot twist: Conservative Justice John Roberts wrote that the court could only decide whether the Department of Homeland Security complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for ending the program. 

But the fight isn’t over yet — the ruling leaves the possibility for the Trump administration to try to rescind DACA again with another explanation for why they ended it. 

Related: California’s agricultural heartland has a large population of DACA recipients. Since 2018, they’ve called on the GOP to step it up.(Tweet this story) 

More: LGBTQ+ immigrants talk about waiting on two life-changing Supreme Court decisions. (via Vox) 

Heat waves, wildfires, cyclones, mosquito-borne diseases — oh my:  The climate crisis poses huge risks to public health. Most local health departments don’t have the resources to prepare for these hazards (we’ve seen that happen with the pandemic, too.) 

The kicker: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention created its climate program to address these issues more than 10 years ago, but it’s been bogged down by neglect and political resistance. We teamed up with Columbia Journalism Investigations to report on how health departments are not equipped to confront health risks associated with climate change. (Tweet this story) 

You get a lawsuit and you get a lawsuit and you get a lawsuit! 

We filed a lawsuit against the Small Business Administration to release information on who is receiving assistance through the Paycheck Protection Program, a $700 billion bailout package intended to help small businesses affected by the pandemic.  

The suit comes after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Congress that these details would not be released. Meanwhile, companies like Shake Shack and Ruth’s Chris Steak House received millions and smaller businesses had not. (Tweet this story)

Full disclosure, we also received money from the PPP program. But that doesn’t stop us from reporting on it. 

Supporting our journalism helps keep our government accountable –– no matter what.

We also didn’t forget about our #UkraineDocs: 

Refresher: We sued the White House’s Office of Management and Budget and the Defense Department for documents related to Trump’s decision to withhold military aid from Ukraine. 

Many details about Trump’s withholding of aid from Ukraine still haven’t been made public. In his new book, former national security adviser John Bolton says the Trump impeachment inquiry missed other troubling episodes. (via New York Times) 

Each week, we feature journalists who have written powerful stories — but, this time, we’re shaking things up a bit. We spoke to Sarah Matthews, an attorney for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP), about the unlawful treatment of journalists during their coverage of the protests over the police killing of George Floyd. From May 26 to June 8 alone, RCFP tracked over 56 arrests and nearly 300 attacks, the majority of which occurred at the hands of law enforcement. It’s been a busy few weeks for the organization, as they provide resources for those covering protests, including a tip sheetand a legal hotline, and help reporters who’ve been wrongfully arrested or attacked.

Describe some experiences of those who’ve been covering these protests. How has coverage of and treatment toward reporters during these protests been? 

During recent protests, we have seen an unprecedented number of attacks and arrests of journalists by law enforcement. For the entire year of 2019, the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker recorded 152 press freedom incidents. Just since May 25, when a white Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd, the tracker has recorded almost 400 incidents, and the number keeps growing.   

Police in Minneapolis arrested a CNN crew on camera after they calmly and repeatedly identified themselves as journalists and offered to comply with any police request to move. Numerous journalists were also arrested, pepper sprayed, beaten and shot with rubber bullets after identifying themselves as journalists, including a Reuters news crew and Los Angeles Times journalists. Linda Tirado, a freelance photojournalist, lost an eye to a rubber bullet as she was clearly in the act of photographing police. We’ve seen law enforcement target journalists in other cities across the country. See here for the latest.

Protests have consistently been the most dangerous place for journalists in recent years. But we have not seen law enforcement target journalists so frequently and flagrantly before, simply for doing their jobs.

What are you hoping that people take away from the coverage you’re seeing and the reporters you’re protecting?

I’m hoping people see the truth — that police are brutally attacking and arresting journalists simply for doing their jobs. These attacks and arrests violate the First Amendment and are an affront to the American public who rely on the press to keep them informed.   

Takeaway: Journalists hold people accountable — and they shouldn’t be targeted for doing their job.

That’s all we have for you this week, folks. A reminder that Black Lives Matter protests are still happening around the country. If you want to join virtually this weekend, here’s where they’re streaming. 

BTW: If you have a question for us about race and current events, reply to this email. We’re answering them in our new newsletter called The Moment. Sign up here. Thanks for reading. See you again next week. 

Read more in Inside Public Integrity

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