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Journalist Charged with Crimes for Leaking Unaired Fox Footage

A Florida journalist and media consultant was arrested and charged with more than a dozen federal crimes on Thursday morning. Tim Burke, who formerly worked for outlets such as Deadspin and the Daily Beast and currently runs Burke Communications, a media and political consulting company, has been charged with seven counts of intercepting or disclosing wire, oral or electronic communications, six counts of accessing a protected computer without authorization, and one count of conspiracy.

A stock photo of a camera and laptop from Envato

According to Rolling Stone, the charges stem from an FBI investigation on how unaired video clips from Tucker Carlson Tonight made it to Vice News and Media Matters. The clips included an antisemetic rant by Kanye West and Tucker being really creepy with staff on his since canceled show, among other things. Carlson, who frequently promoted fascist conspiracy theories, racist, sexist, and homophobic views, and generally awful and terrible things, was dropped suddenly from the network in 2023. 

The leaks embarrassed and caused chaos over at Fox News, who “full on freaked out” over the Kanye clips. According to The Tampa Bay Times, Burke’s Home was raided by the FBI last year in May. A letter obtained by the Times between a federal prosecutor and Fox News confirmed an “ongoing criminal probe into alleged computer hacks” at the cable news giant. Agents took Burke’s phone, computer, and hard drives in the raid, which reportedly took 10 hours. 

Lynn Hurtak, Burke’s wife and a Tampa Bay City Council member, said in a statement “I am confident in my husband’s innocence, and I support him completely.”

Burke’s lawyers maintain that the raid violated the law and Burke’s activities are constitutionally protected. 

“It’s not hacking, it’s just good investigative journalism,” Michael Maddux told the Times. “We obviously emphatically deny these charges and we’re looking forward to the opportunity to defend him and exonerate him.”

In an August interview with the Columbia Journalism Review, Mark Rasch, another one of Burke’s lawyers, explained how his client obtained the footage:

Fox, like many other broadcasters, are livestreaming continuously to many different entities—to their affiliates, and so on—and these live feeds are in high definition and encrypted. But at the same time, they are also broadcasting low-definition, unencrypted feeds. They’re internet addressable, with no user ID and password required. All you need to know is the URL.
There are third-party sites that transmit these live feeds as a service. They have password-protected websites. And in this case, somebody on the internet provided Tim with the publicly posted user ID and password for a demo account on one of these services that are used by broadcasters. So Tim logs in to the site, and the site automatically downloads to his computer a list of all the livestreams on the site. The important thing to note here is that those livestreams did not require a user ID and password to access them, just a URL.

The fact that Burke didn’t do any kind of “hacking,” but merely accessed already available footage of powerful people being shitty and passing it along to news outlets, shows that despite all of their braying about “free speech,” the right isn’t actually interested in it, but the opposite. The fact that the government is going through charging Burke with crimes will have a chilling effect on both free speech and journalism during a time where both of those things - and democracy itself - are under attack from fascists. 

Just as troubling is the federal government’s assertion that Burke was apparently not doing journalism when he shared the leaks because he wasn’t working for a news outlet at the time. Burke, as both a freelance journalist and a human being, doesn’t need to wear a fedora and a flashbulb camera around his neck or be the host of a show with millions of viewers in order to be able to do journalism. 

A January statement from the American Civil Liberties Union agrees. “One does not need to work full-time as a journalist in order to engage in protected journalism,” the ACLU wrote, adding that the law “protects anyone ‘with a purpose to disseminate’ information to the public, regardless of whether their own byline is attached.” 

“It's quite common for journalists — including freelancers, producers, researchers, editors, news services and consultants — to provide research and documents for stories they do not themselves write, or even provide written copy without receiving a byline. That does not deprive them of constitutional protection. Courts have rightly warned against limiting the First Amendment’s press clause to established media.”

There are countless bullshit traffickers who sit behind comically large microphones screaming fascist nonsense all day. These are people who are literally making shit up which has resulted in people getting killed. They’re also free to do so without being arrested and charged with crimes, though sometimes they get sued into oblivion. That Burke is being prosecuted for his actions amounts to the federal government doing the bidding of Fox News. 



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