Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan spoke out against harassment of journalists after a reporter said he was asked repeatedly by a customs official whether he writes “propaganda.”
“Unequivocally, let me say that any journalist that is stopped and harassed and treated improperly because they’re a journalist is absolutely unacceptable ― unequivocally,” Morgan said during a Tuesday press briefing at the White House.
Defense One editor Ben Watson reported last week that a passport screening official at Dulles International Airport in Virginia questioned him incessantly while holding on to the document.
Watson said that after identifying himself as a journalist, the official asked four times, “You write propaganda, right?”
On Tuesday, Morgan urged anyone who has faced such treatment to immediately report it to either the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility or the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General’s Office.
“We can disagree all we want,” he added, clarifying that “disrespect doesn’t mean disagreement.”
“And there’s a little thing in the country called freedom of speech, so anything that we do that would impede that, we’re going to hold people accountable. It’s unacceptable ― 100%,” Morgan said.
Watson said of the incident that he initially denied the officer’s claims that he wrote “propaganda,” then answered affirmatively “for the purposes of expediting this conversation” before he was handed back his passport.
Watson has filed a civil rights complaint as a result, though he has yet to receive an update on the matter.
He told HuffPost that Morgan’s latest statement is a step in the right direction.
“We are encouraged by the acting commissioner’s remarks today, and the overall positive and pragmatic responses this incident has generated,” Watson said Tuesday over email.
On Saturday, a CBP spokesperson told HuffPost the agency is aware of the “alleged
Several similar cases of alleged harassment have been reported throughout the past year. British journalist James Dyer tweeted in August that he was derided as a member of the “fake news media” by a CBP agent at Los Angeles International Airport.
In February, CBP issued an apology to BuzzFeed News reporter David Mack for an agent’s “inappropriate remarks” made at New York City’s JFK Airport. According to the outlet, Mack was targeted with an aggressive line of questioning over his coverage of President Donald Trump.