“PEN declares for a free press and opposes arbitrary censorship. It believes that the necessary advance of the world toward a more highly organized political and economic order renders free criticism of governments, administrations, and institutions imperative.”

—PEN Charter, 1948 

October 16, 2018,

Today PEN America, represented by the nonpartisan nonprofit Protect Democracy and the Yale Law School Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic, filed a lawsuit in federal court against the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump. The suit seeks to stop President Trump from using the machinery of government to retaliate or threaten reprisals against journalists and media outlets for coverage he dislikes.

President Trump’s tirades against the press are not new. His cries of “fake news” are an almost daily occurrence. The White House has called for individual journalists to be fired, and the president has referred to the media as “the enemy of the American people.” This has created an environment of hostility toward the media wherein journalists have been subject to death threats, needed bodyguards to cover political rallies, and have faced attacks in their newsrooms. The president has also threatened book publishers and authors who have published critical volumes. While many media outlets are unrelenting in their robust coverage, individual writers may think twice before publishing pieces or commentary that could put them in the White House’s crosshairs. As you know, over the last 18 months PEN America has been doing research, reporting, advocacy, outreach events, and more to spotlight and call out the president’s assaults on writers and journalists.

Yet most of the president’s verbal attacks on the press are speech that is protected under the First Amendment. Our country’s broad protections for free speech allow the president to denigrate the press and even go after individual journalists by name. However, when President Trump crosses the line and threatens to use his authority to punish the media, or actually does so, it is vital for the courts to step in and affirm that such threats and reprisals are unconstitutional. We have worked closely with leading First Amendment scholars and practitioners in private practice and academia in order to hone a request to the court to do just that.

As an organization of writers, we at PEN America are deeply concerned to see the antagonism toward the press that we’ve long associated with authoritarian rulers around the world manifest here at home. We have forcefully raised concerns about free expression infringements during the Obama, Bush, and other prior administrations including, in some instances, by filing suit. Given our mission to defend free expression and support those who pay a price for its exercise, we are determined to rise in defense of the press freedom protections that are so fundamental to our society and democracy. With media organizations focused on their essential role of providing probing, objective coverage, PEN America is uniquely positioned in standing up to these encroachments on the work of those who cover and comment on the work of our government. 

Yours in solidarity,

Jennifer Egan
President

Suzanne Nossel

Suzanne Nossel
Chief Executive Officer