Journalist indicted after accessing Tucker Carlson video footage

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Federal prosecutors indicted freelance journalist Tim Burke on Thursday for accessing internal video footage from Fox News and other media companies, in an unusual case that his attorneys say threatens freedom of the press.

Burke, a former employee of the Daily Beast and Deadspin, gained renown for his ability to obtain timely television clips — such as uncensored footage of Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the 2022 Academy Awards, or an eerie montage of anchors for local stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group all reading from the same script.

But in an indictment laying out 14 counts against Burke that include conspiracy and wiretapping, prosecutors allege that the journalist went too far by tapping into a streaming feed site where he acquired unbroadcast video clips of former Fox News star Tucker Carlson and other personalities.

Vice and Media Matters later published some of the footage obtained by Burke, including outtakes from an interview with Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, making antisemitic remarks and rambling about “fake children” living in his home — scenes that undermined Carlson’s on-air attempts to present the MAGA-friendly star as thoughtful and levelheaded.

According to the indictment and a statement from the company, the footage came from LiveU, a streaming service used by media outlets to share video across their organizations. After the FBI raided Burke’s Tampa home and seized his equipment in May, he explained in a court filing how he accessed the footage in an attempt to get his equipment back.

Burke’s lawyers said in that filing that he had merely used publicly available login credentials to access LiveU’s feed, after a “confidential source” showed him where to find the details, then entered URLs for individual feeds.

“He merely found something newsworthy on a publicly accessible site,” the filing reads.

Behind-the-scenes videos of Tucker Carlson were leaked. Was it a crime?

In an interview with The Washington Post in August, Burke compared the video streams to the digital versions of the feeds once broadcast from satellite news trucks, arguing that he hadn’t broken any law by accessing the footage. Burke said the LiveU login he used was freely available online.

“They were demo credentials that were published publicly,” Burke told The Post.

In the indictment, prosecutors claim Burke broke the law with the help of an unnamed co-conspirator by using “compromised credentials” to access computers without authorization.

In August, LiveU told The Post in a statement that it was cooperating with the investigation. The company described Burke’s procuring of the videos as an “event of unauthorized access” and said that it had devoted “significant resources” to keep it from happening again. The company didn’t respond to a request for comment about Burke’s indictment.

Fox News did not respond to a request for comment.

In a statement, Burke’s attorneys called his work “intrepid and perfectly legal,” comparing his use of the login credentials to the sharing of a Netflix password.

“The facts of this case will demonstrate that there was, in fact, no hacking whatsoever,” the statement reads.

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Some media law observers say Burke may be the victim of an overzealous application of computer laws. In October, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Freedom of the Press Foundation and more than 50 other groups asked the Justice Department to release more information about what prompted the raid on Burke’s home.

Seth Stern, director of advocacy at the Freedom of the Press Foundation, said the indictment seemed to create a “problematic” requirement for journalists like Burke to get approval from public figures before publishing potentially damaging information.

“It really seems a matter of going after a journalist for doing their job too well, being too computer-savvy,” Stern said.

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