Reporters Get Win in 'Fake Reporters' Case

By William Vogeler, Esq. on December 18, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

With continued political spin, "fake news" has come to mean "news reports that are not true." It's a political definition.

But there is another kind of "fake news." It's when the government or others pretend to be reporters and disseminate false information.

That's what the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is looking for -- records that FBI agents impersonated reporters for its investigations. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia says the "real press" is entitled to it.

FBI Fake News

In 2014, the Seattle Times reported on an FBI operation in Washington. According to the news, the FBI had impersonated an Associated Press reporter to send a bogus news article that was booby-trapped with surveillance software.

Following the disclosures, the Reporters Committee demanded under the Freedom of Information Act that the agency produce records on the bureau's use of such tactics. The FBI said it had no records of any other instances of media impersonation.

The Committee sued, alleging the government had conducted an inadequate records search. A trial judge dismissed the suit, but the D.C. Circuit reversed.

In Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press v. Federal Bureau of Investigation, the appeals court basically told the government to look harder.

Media Credibility

The government had turned over some records, but the appeals court said it did not satisfy the court that it did a sufficient search.

Katie Townsend, litigation director for the Reporters Committee, said it was a significant ruling for the media. The public has a right to know the truth -- when the government is creating "fake news."

"These practices undermine the media's credibility and could make sources wary of trusting journalists in the future," she said.

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