WASHINGTON, D.C. – 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 Bob Menendez and Cory Booker joined Senate Democratic colleagues in 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.
“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,” said Sen. Menendez. “From the tiny newspaper in a rural community, to major news networks, to investigative reporters, the work these men and women perform has never been more important. The American people need a free, independent and robust press to find and report the truth and hold those in power accountable.”
“President Trump’s attacks on the press are unacceptable and need to stop. Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of our democracy and something that should be valued and promoted, not suppressed and silenced,” said Sen. Cory Booker.
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, Senator Menendez and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-N) 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 introduced today is led by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and also co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.).
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.