Amid the handwringing of many in the corporate media over comedian Michelle Wolf's monologue at the White House Correspondents' Association over the weekend, few took notice of reports that the Justice Department took a step away from protecting journalists on Sunday, deleting language in its policy manual regarding press freedom as well as racial gerrymandering.
The WHCA: Sorry, White House, that our WHCD host said mean things about you!
— Marcus Gilmer (@marcusgilmer) April 30, 2018
As Buzzfeed reported, the U.S. Attorneys' Manual includes the DOJ's policy priorities, and has been updated in recent months under orders by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, after undergoing no major changes since 1997.
In the new update, a section titled "Need for Free Press and Public Trial" was removed. The deleted passage had stressed the need to maintain "the constitutional requirements of a free press and public trials as well as the right of the people in a constitutional democracy to have access to information about the conduct of law enforcement officers, prosecutors and courts, consistent with the individual rights of the accused."
Far from prioritizing the need to ensure government transparency, a brief section on the department's policy for contact with media notes that "the right of the public to have access to information" about the DOJ should be balanced with other factors as officials decide when to release information. Employees are also now required to report “any contact with a member of the media about a DOJ matter.”
The DOJ also removed all references to redrawing voting districts and gerrymandering along racial lines, and deleted a section that read, "The Voting Section defends from unjustified attack redistricting plans designed to provide minority voters fair opportunities to elect candidates of their choice and endeavors to achieve racially fair results where courts find...that redistricting plans constitute unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.”
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The changes follow numerous attacks on press freedom and voting rights by the Trump administration. Last week, the U.S. fell to 45th place on Reporters Without Borders' World Press Freedom Index, with the group citing President Donald Trump's anti-press rhetoric as furthering the "decline in journalists’ right to report."
The administration's hostility towards full voting rights for Americans has been evidenced in the election commission Trump was forced to disband earlier this year, after it failed to prove his claims that the popular vote was stolen from him in the 2016 election by undocumented immigrants who voted illegally, and by a number of his appointments of judges who have built careers on fighting against voting rights.
On social media, Trump critics implored the corporate media to take note of the DOJ's policy changes.
And while we all debate whether @michelleisawolf hurts SHS feelings by complimenting her eye makeup, the DOJ removes the “free press” section from its guidelines. Seems to sum up #WHCADinner https://t.co/srVF863Hdy
— ilyse hogue (@ilyseh) April 29, 2018
Wish DOJ’s removal of language about a free press and racial gerrymandering were trending on Twitter. But anyway, back to your urgent discussion of whether comedians should be banned from a DC party... https://t.co/8CsWfq6RjB
— Kimberly Atkins (@KimberlyEAtkins) April 29, 2018
Administration overhauls handbook used by federal prosecutors and DoJ, deleting references to racial gerrymandering and a section in the "Need for Free Press.”
And no, this isn't just words: it's a way of affecting how this country works on the ground. https://t.co/lZzt3qCzRF
— Yascha Mounk (@Yascha_Mounk) April 30, 2018