PEN America Stands With Local Newsrooms To Defend Free Press
Today hundreds of newspapers across the United States, led by The Boston Globe, published editorials challenging attacks on press freedom. Each publication in its own words stressed the essential role that journalism and news outlets play in undergirding American communities, our politics and policymaking, and the nation as a whole.
For nearly 22 months PEN America’s Daily Alert on Rights and Expression has been sounding an alarm about developments threatening our right to speak, listen, access information, and carry out the obligations of an informed public. That clarion call is getting louder: The continued escalation of the Trump Administration’s already indefensible campaign to discredit mainstream media and to erode our most fundamental democratic norms around freedom of the press is glaringly evident. With increasingly dangerous rhetoric, the president of the United States continues to undermine public faith in the news media and advance the administration’s ongoing effort to subvert truth, question facts, and corrode civic and political discourse. There are worrying indicators that these insidious efforts may be working. A recent poll found that 51 percent of Republicans believe the news media to be “the enemy of the people,”—President Trump’s label—with only 36 percent believing it to be “an important part of democracy.”
“We applaud editorial boards for issuing this impassioned and forceful entreaty to readers to rise in defense of press freedom and the role of the media as a vital underpinning of democracy. In order for journalists and editors to remain focused on their critical role as dispassionate and dogged searchers for truth, it falls to the rest of us to fend off attacks and threats that are making their work so much more difficult and even dangerous,” said PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel. “We have had the luxury in this country to take for granted an intrepid and robust press corps at the national, state, and local level. No more. If the news media is to survive intact serving communities and holding the powerful accountable, it will be because we as citizens took a stand and recognized in time that diverse, adequately-resourced, and unimpeded journalism is worth fighting for.”
In the face of these increasing threats to press freedom, breakdowns in civil discourse, and attempts to suppress specific voices, PEN America continues to champion and defend free expression in communities across the United States. Through PEN Across America, PEN America Members and allies across the country are leading initiatives to defend a free press, promote dialogue across differences, and foster deeper learning on a range of free expression issues. From literary events to civic forums to advocacy efforts that support local news outlets, our Press Freedom Incentive Fund has united supporters, writers, and readers from coast to coast around important free expression and First Amendment rights issues.
PEN America has also published Faking News: Fraudulent News and the Fight for Truth and its News Consumers Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, evaluating the threat posed by false reports and stressing solutions that empower news consumers while avoiding new infringements on free speech.
PEN America’s Defending Free Expression: A Toolkit for Writers and Readers helps authors, journalists, artists, and others who exercise creative expression mount a defense of their craft and core freedoms. The toolkit suggests specific actions writers and readers can take to protect their First Amendment rights and features advice of others with experience in countering anti-democratic forces hostile to free expression. With online harassment increasingly recognized for the threat it poses to free expression in the online space, PEN America developed the Online Harassment Field Manual, a first-of-its-kind comprehensive resource for how to defend against, prepare for, and respond to online harassment, with resources for those targeted by online abuse as well as their employers and allies. Based on extensive research and interviews with writers, journalists, technology experts, mental health professionals, and lawyers, the Field Manual empowers writers and journalists to secure their own freedom to write.
As we at PEN America maintain vigilance over the threats to press freedom and free expression more broadly, and as we rally our nationwide membership in defense of these vital freedoms, we are encouraged by Thursday’s initiative by editors in every corner of the country. This demonstrates that the determination to protect the free press is without demographic or geographic borders, and that journalists are determined to affirm their service to their communities and our democracy.
In the Words of the Press
“In our business, we know how much words matter. We know, too, that Trump’s references to us as the “enemy of the American People” are no less dangerous because they happen to be strategic. That is what Nazis called Jews. It’s how Joseph Stalin’s critics were marked for execution. Every reporter who has ever covered a Trump rally knows the scratch of a threat that’s conveyed during that ritual moment when he aims the attention of the crowd to reporters, many of whom no longer stand in the press pen in the back for that reason.
“While violence against reporters could result in loss of life and livelihood, self-censorship by a press under siege is equally damning to democracy. Reporters cannot function half-heartedly or by constantly looking over their shoulders. And the mission to inform is lost if the editing process includes omitting anything and everything that might not sit well with consumers of news.”
—Times-Tribune (Corbin, KY)
“The news media is NOT the enemy of the people. Ignorance is. So is abuse of authority. So is corruption. So are lies.”
—The Deadline Detroit
“The rhetoric used by the president is obviously designed to squelch dissent. While as a trade magazine covering book publishing we are not directly in his line of fire, it is hard to ignore the intimidation against journalists that the president has incited. It is equally hard to ignore the falsehoods spread by this administration. One of the most important jobs of the media is to offer citizens unfettered access to accurate information about the world around them and the people governing it. As such, journalists—just like authors—rely on the ability to do their job without fear of retribution from those in positions of power, especially those in government. As such, we applaud—and stand with—journalists and media outlets that continue to do important work in providing checks on the government as permitted by the First Amendment.”
“We see this as dangerous for the simple reason that by diminishing the press, those who hold high office gain a greater ability to govern without the steadying force of public scrutiny. That’s a recipe not for empowering this president, but rather for ensuring that our leaders in Washington fall out of touch with the people and decide that they know better than the people they seek to govern.”
—The Dallas Morning News
“At a practical level, we journalists sit through boring government meetings and learn about public schol financing formulas, so you don’t have to. It’s not as lofty a statement as the First Amendment, but it serves.”
—The Arizona Daily Star
“Distrust is not easy to dismantle. But journalists at The San Diego Union-Tribune and nationwide will keep advocating for a free and fair press. With this president. And the next. And the next. And the next. And all who follow.”
—The San Diego Union Tribune
News reporters and editors are human, and make mistakes. Correcting them is core to our job. But insisting that truths you don’t like are “fake news” is dangerous to the lifeblood of democracy. And calling journalists the “enemy of the people” is dangerous, period.
—The New York Times
Trump’s strategy is pretty clear: By branding reporters as liars, he apparently hopes to discredit, disrupt or bully into silence anyone who challenges his version of reality. By undermining trust in news organizations and delegitimizing journalism and muddling the facts so that Americans no longer know who to believe, he can deny and distract and help push his administration’s far-fetched storyline.”
—The Los Angeles Times