The good news is that the US has moved up substantially over the last year, due in part to its release of an Al-Jazeera cameraman from the Guantánamo Bay prison camp for terror suspects captured overseas. RSF reports that:
The United States rose twelve places to 36th position. The release of Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami Al-Haj after six years in the Guantanamo Bay military base contributed to this improvement. Although the absence of a federal “shield law” means the confidentiality of sources is still threatened by federal courts, the number of journalists being subpoenaed or forced to reveal their sources has declined in recent months and none has been sent to prison.
The group also noted that there has not yet been justice for the murder of the editor of the Oakland Post, Chauncey Bailey, suggesting that flaws in the system and a lack of special protection for journalists may be contributing to the lag in prosecuting the crime. "The way the investigation into his murder has become enmeshed in local conflicts of interest and the lack of federal judicial intervention also help to explain why the United States did not get a higher ranking".
RSF also criticized the US for the "many arrests of journalists during the Democratic and Republican conventions", which includes the arrest of several credentialed reporters who were covering an anti-Republican party protest rally, during the RNC, by authorities who were either making blanket arrests or were specifically instructed to interfere with media coverage of the event.
Bolivia was the worst performer, dropping 47 places to 115th worldwide. The RSF report cites institutional conflict and the deliberate targeting of journalists by one political faction or another: "Its institutional and political crisis has exacerbated the polarisation between state and privately-owned media and exposed journalists to violence because of their presumed links with the government or opposition".
For the United States, the ranking is an embarrassment, as it has been for the last several years. The nation that gave "Freedom of the Press" to the world, enshrining it in the First Amendment to its national Constitution —the oldest still in use—, has in recent years found itself less and less able or willing to honor its obligation to the free press, and by extension, to its people.
The RSF report covers "every kind of violation directly affecting journalists (such as murders, imprisonment, physical attacks and threats) and news media (censorship, confiscation of newspaper issues, searches and harassment). And it includes the degree of impunity enjoyed by those responsible for these press freedom violations".