Free Expression Report Card: Mike Pence
Position within the Trump administration: 48th Vice-President of the United States.
Previous Experience: Governor of Indiana (2013-present); Representative, Indiana 6th District (2003-2013); Representative, Indiana 2nd District (2001-2003)
Pence as a Proponent of Journalism Shield Laws
- Mike Pence has repeatedly co-sponsored the Free Flow of Information Act, a bill which has repeatedly been introduced before Congress but which has never been passed. The bill has aimed to serve as a federal shield law that prohibits a federal entity from forcing a “covered person,” such as a journalist, from having to disclose its sources unless ruled by the court. Pence co-sponsored the act on two separate occasions in 2005, again in 2007, in 2009, and in 2011.
- Pence’s repeated support for the bill led the Columbia Journalism Review to describe him—in a 2007 article—as “journalisms’ best ally in the fight to protect anonymous sources.” In an interview with the Review, Pence noted, “Our founders did not put the freedom of the press in the First Amendment because they got good press—quite the opposite was true.”
- In his interview, Pence also argued that he had developed “a very healthy appreciation for the work that journalists do, and the public good that a free and independent press represents.” Pence also spoke of how his experience in governance had influenced his support of the federal shield law: “The longer I’m in Congress, the more vigorously I believe in a free and independent press. Concentrations of power should be subject to great scrutiny. I just think that it is imperative that we preserve the transparency of the American government. And the only way you can do that is by preserving a free and independent press.”
- Pence reportedly became a supporter of the Free Flow of Information Act after reading about Judith Miller’s jailing in 2005 in The New York Times. Miller was a reporter who was sentenced to jail for three months in 2005 for refusing to disclose her sources in a case involving a CIA official. After Pence was chosen as Trump’s running mate in 2016, Miller penned an op-ed on Fox News where she shared some of the remarks he had made to her in private conversation, after she was released from jail. According to Miller, Pence said forcing reporters to disclose their sources “’chills reporting of the news and restricts the free flow of information to the public,” and intimidating reporters would “limit the ability of the reporters to act as independent watchdogs on government waste, fraud and abuse.”
Congressional Caucus for the Freedom of the Press
- On May 3, 2006, Pence as the Republican representative of Indiana and Adam Schiff as the Democratic representative of California founded the Congressional Caucus for Freedom of the Press. The Caucus was billed as a “new bipartisan, bicameral caucus aimed at advancing press freedom around the world.” Through its founding, Pence also became one of the 4 co-chairs. In a press release, Pence said, “Where there is no freedom of the press, there is no freedom. If America is to be a beacon of hope to the world, we must hold high the ideal of a free and independent press, advance it abroad and defend it at home.”
- On June 27, 2006, Pence co-signed a letter issued by the Congressional Caucus for Freedom of the Press calling for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to “take action to protect the independence and freedom of journalists in Russia.” The letter also urged for the continual investigation over the death of Paul Klebnikov, the Russian-American editor of Forbes Russia who was murdered in July 2004.
- As co-chair of the Congressional Caucus for Freedom of the Press in May 2007, Pence made a speech on the House floor in which he stated that “the rising tide of violence against journalists in Russia since the advent of the Presidency of Mr. Putin is deeply troubling and ought to be troubling to anyone who cherishes the notion of a free and independent press.” Pence in the same speech described the press as an “agency of progress, that agency of accountability that makes freedom possible and sustains freedom” and condemned the killings in Russia.
- On April 1, 2009, Pence alongside Schiff introduced the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act. Named after Daniel Pearl, a former Wall Street Journal reporter kidnapped and killed in Pakistan, the legislation aim to “an annual State Department report on the status of press freedom in every country in the world and create a grant program aimed at broadening and strengthening the independence of journalists and media organizations.” In the press release, Pence explained, “This legislation takes valuable steps in highlighting and supporting the critical work of investigative journalism, while putting on notice those countries who choose to ignore the freedom of the press and perpetrate violence and censorship that should offend the conscience of all those who cherish freedom.” In May 2010, President Obama signed the legislation into law.
- Pence co-sponsored, in 2001, a proposed constitutional amendment that would grant Congress the power to prohibit flag burning. In 2003, Pence voted in approval of a similar Congressional resolution.
Donations, Disclosures, and Free Speech
- After the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Citizens United in January 2010, overturning a rule prohibiting restrictions on independent political donations by nonprofit corporations, Pence released a statement in approval. He wrote that the ruling “takes us one step closer to the Founding Fathers’ vision of free speech” and it will help protect “the right of private citizens to voice opposition or support for their elected representatives.”
- In March 2010, Pence spoke in opposition to the DISCLOSE Act. The DISCLOSE Act aimed to add certain provisions such as requiring individuals and corporations under government contracts to report their political donations to the Federal Election Commission and require corporations to disclose their donations to the public. Pence labeled the Act “a naked attempt to cloud the free speech rights of millions of Americans; rights that were clearly affirmed in January by the Supreme Court.”
Media Bias and the 2016 Campaign
- In 2016 as Trump’s running mate, Pence spoke out against media coverage in front of his audience New Hampshire. “Just about every day, the national media latches onto some issue about my running mate. It really does. I mean, the media is so busy parsing every word that Donald Trump said in the last 30 minutes, they don’t have time to cover what the Clintons have been up to for the last 30 years,” “It’s pretty rough out there. It’s like 2-on-1 most days with the media doing most of Hillary’s work for her,” and “It’s pretty amazing. The party in power, and their allies in the media, all think the usual things will work against him, right? You can just see it on their faces. They keep thinking they finally got him this time. They [have] finally done him in.” Pence repeated this belief in a campaign rally in Virginia where he complained of how “The media’s so busy parsing every word Donald Trump’s said or tweeted in the last 30 minutes that it seems they haven’t had time to talk about what the Clintons have been up to for the last 30 years.”
- Pence in Ohio during the presidential campaign declared that he has “no doubt the national media is trying to rig this election with their biased coverage in Hillary Clinton’s favor.”
- Pence repeated this belief in a campaign rally in Virginia where he complained of how “The media’s so busy parsing every word Donald Trump’s said or tweeted in the last 30 minutes that it seems they haven’t had time to talk about what the Clintons have been up to for the last 30 years.”
- During his appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Pence described Trump’s alleged sexual misconduct as “a series of unsubstantiated allegations” and turned the attention to how he felt Clinton allegations received no media attention “while those that step forward with these unsubstantiated claims that Donald Trump has denied were treated with headline news and continuous coverage.”
- The 2016 campaign is not the only time, however, that Pence has argued that the media misrepresented political reality for seemingly partisan purposes. In 2007, Pence was quoted in his keynote speech at the Ronald Reagan Banquet in which he criticized the media’s reporting of the Iraq War. “Over and over the media tells us America is tired of the war. Yes, America is tired. It’s tired of what we’re being told about this war. It’s tired of the incessant negativity. Tired of the constant coverage of every road-side bomb while excluding the mention of every courageous, brave, and productive act. The media and the Democrats may be tired of this war, but America is not tired of this cause.” Pence in the Columbia Journalism Review was said to have called this a “bad news bias.”
Proposal for a State-Run News Outlet
- Pence faced controversy in 2015 when the Indianapolis Star discovered he planned to launch a state-run taxpayer-funded news outlet named “Just IN.” It was revealed that the site was to publish “information ahead of any other news outlets” and feature “news stories” written by state press secretaries. However, many reacted by comparing it to the state-run news outlets of countries such as China and North Korea and with ridicule. Following the uproar, Pence announced through a memo he would no longer be launching the site.