[WASHINGTON, DC] – Following the Trump administration’s decision to ban CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins from a press event after she questioned President Trump on his relationship with his former attorney Michael Cohen, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) led the introduction of a resolution today condemning the White House’s attempts to restrict media access and affirming the importance of a free and unfettered press. Over the previous weekend, Vice President Mike Pence defended the widely denounced decision as President Trump lambasted journalists on Twitter, calling the media “unpatriotic” and accusing reporters of putting lives at risk.
“Punishing reporters for simply doing their job is a strongman tactic that cannot be tolerated in a free democracy. President Trump may not like tough questions, but that’s simply too bad. Retaliating and banning reporters from public briefings on public property violates a public trust and perhaps the law. At this extraordinary moment, the press’s role in our democracy is more critical than ever – uncovering and reporting information, exposing wrongdoing, and holding public officials accountable. This resolution reaffirms our commitment to the First Amendment and calls on the President to respect our free press rather than demean and diminish it,” Blumenthal said.
The resolution introduced today is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Patty Murray (D-WA) Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Tom Udall (D-NM), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Cory A. Booker (D-NJ), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH).
“The free flow of information is a cornerstone of our democracy,” Murray said. “While it may not always be favorable to individuals or organizations, ensuring journalists can do their job without fear or intimidation is what allows all of us to disagree and debate political ideas, allows us to speak out if our government is acting in a dishonest, unethical or unlawful manner, and allows open and honest discussion of ideas—new and old. I strongly support this resolution, and hope it sends a message to the White House that restricting media access will never be acceptable in a free and fair society.”
“The press is not the enemy of the American people and the president’s attacks and threats only embolden our real enemies abroad and divide us here at home,” Menendez. “From the tiny newspaper in a rural community, to major news networks, to investigative reporters, their work has never been more important. The American people need a free, robust press to find and report the truth and hold those in power accountable.”
“President Trump’s unrelenting attacks on the free press are a transparent attempt to undermine the credibility of an institution in our democracy that seeks to hold him accountable – and the president is setting a terrible example for leaders here at home and abroad,” Udall said. “President Trump’s war on the First Amendment is part of his broader efforts to tear down the institutions in our nation that he perceives as threats to his power – the courts, federal law enforcement, and the intelligence community included. However, we live in a democracy – with a free and fiercely independent press -- and the president’s vitriol will not change that. The president should heed the call of this resolution and change his behavior – unless he wants his supporters to move from violent rhetoric to violent actions.”
“Speaking truth to power is what our Founding Fathers had in mind when they enshrined freedom of the press in our Constitution,” said Whitehouse. “That’s why bashing journalists for doing their job and obstructing their work is an insult to American democracy. I’m proud to join my colleagues in taking a stand against these strong-man tactics.”
“A free and open press is the bedrock of American democracy,” Wyden said. “Time and time again, President Trump has attacked the free press, and done everything in his power to undermine the critical role that journalists play in our society. When our leaders denigrate the First Amendment, they undermine the very foundation of our country. Today, my colleagues and I are sending a clear message to the president: his attacks on our nation’s free press will not go unnoticed.”
“Then-candidate and now President Donald Trump’s rhetoric – calling the media 'a stain on America' and 'the enemy of the American people' – certainly has caused damage. Trump’s constant, dismal refrains need to end, and he needs to accept that one of the press’s most important roles is to speak truth to power – especially his,” said Cardin. “Freedom of the press is one of those most basic rights and it is central to the First Amendment of the Constitution.”
“The freedom of the press is under an unprecedented array of attacks, and the White House punishing a reporter for simply doing her job and asking questions is the latest troubling development,” Hassan said. “Each public official has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution – including the freedom of the press – and it is essential that we honor and protect that ideal.”
President Trump has frequently attacked the press, describing mainstream media outlets as “a stain on America,” “trying to take away our history and our heritage,” and “the enemy of the American People.” At the end of April, the watchdog organization Reporters Without Borders dropped the United States by two places in its annual World Press Freedom Index. Four days later, President Trump called the White House press corps “a bunch of fake news liberals who hate me.” Later that month, 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl reported that President Trump explained his attacks on the press by saying, “I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so that when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.”
In May, Blumenthal and U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) introduced the Journalist Protection Act, making it a federal crime to intentionally cause bodily injury to a journalist affecting interstate or foreign commerce in the course of reporting or in a manner designed to intimidate him or her from newsgathering for a media organization. The bill, which is led by U.S. Representative Eric Swalwell (D-CA) in the House of Representatives, is supported by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and by News Media for Open Government, a broad coalition of news media and journalism organizations working to ensure that laws, policies and practices preserve and protect freedom of the press, open government and the free flow of information in our democratic society.
The resolution is supported by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), American Society of Journalists and Authors, Author’s Guild, Committee to Protect Journalists, Demand Progress Action, National Coalition Against Censorship, PEN American, Protect Democracy and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
“Any attacks against the press are attacks on our constitutional democracy itself and we won’t stand for it,” said Faiz Shakir, ACLU National Political Director.
“Everyone who writes, everyone who speaks, everyone who believes in the principles on which our country was founded needs to stand up now,” said James Gleick, President of the Authors Guild. “We see the president’s nakedly authoritarian instincts. He yearns to be a despot and no longer tries to hide it.”
“The job of the press is to speak truth to power and President Trump has made clear the thing he fears most is the truth,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director, Demand Progress Action. “We support and applaud the congressional resolution that reminds President Trump that the news media are a stand-in for the American people and represent all of our interests in holding elected officials to account for their actions.”
“President Trump shakes the foundation of democracy when he punishes a reporter for asking a question, condemns reports that he dislikes as ‘fake news,’ and encourages Americans to see the press as ‘enemies of the people,’” said Christopher Finan, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Censorship.
“It’s a journalist’s duty to inform the public, and calling journalists the ‘enemy of the people’ runs counter to the values of our democracy. Retaliating against reporters who ask hard questions is not only unacceptable, but is disrespectful to the American people, who rely on a free press to make their own decisions and hold those in power to account. We thank Senator Blumenthal for recognizing the seriousness of this issue and urge the Senate to both adopt this resolution and continue to speak out in support of press freedom,” said Bruce Brown, Director of Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
“There is no stronger institution in democracy than a free and independent press. Our First Amendment protects our press and in turn enables our citizens to receive important information about our leaders and how our government works. In essence the First Amendment fuels our democracy,” said Professor Roy Gutterman, Director of the Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University. “This goes beyond politics and party. News organizations should be lauded, not condemned.”
The full text of the resolution introduced today is available here and copied below:
Condemning the decision by President Donald Trump and the White House to ban members of the media from White House events for asking critical questions of the President, and affirming the importance of a free and unfettered press in our democracy.
Whereas the President repeatedly refers to reputable journalists and multiple media organizations as “fake news”;
Whereas the President has characterized these organizations as “a stain on America”;
Whereas the President has characterized these organizations as “the real enemy of the people” while simultaneously characterizing his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin as “a great success”;
Whereas the President has threatened media organizations such as CNN and the Washington Post with antitrust actions while ignoring antitrust concerns with news organizations that provide him favorable coverage;
Whereas on July 25, 2016, the White House singled out CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins and barred her from attending an event at the White House Rose Garden;
Whereas Ms. Collins asked President Trump questions regarding his former attorney Michael Cohen and Russian President Vladimir Putin, which he did not answer, at the White House press pool earlier in the day;
Whereas the White House alleged that Ms. Collins’ questions were inappropriate for the venue;
Whereas the White House’s justification for removing Ms. Collins is clearly a pretext for the real reason she was removed – her questions were uncomfortable for the President, who didn’t like the questions she asked;
Whereas the President has threatened to take away the White House press credentials of journalists whose coverage he does not like;
Whereas the decision to bar a member of the press from the White House for the questions they ask is retaliatory in nature, violates the spirit of the First Amendment, and not indicative of an open and free press;
Whereas a free and unfettered press is the cornerstone of our democracy: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the Senate--
(1) condemns the decision by President Donald Trump and the White House to bar Kaitlan Collins from the White House;
(2) condemns the escalating attacks by President Trump on reputable journalists and news organizations as “fake news,” “a stain on America,” and “the real enemy of the people”;
(3) affirms that it is necessary and appropriate for reporters to ask questions of powerful government officials, including the President of the United States, in order to hold these officials accountable to the people of the United States;
(4) affirms that reporters and journalists must be able to feel free to do their duty without fear of reprisal from the Government.