White House’s Decision to Revoke Press Passes Part of Efforts to Stifle Speech and Media Freedom
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEW YORK—Following news earlier this week that the Trump administration revoked the press credentials of nearly the entire White House press corps, PEN America filed a brief opposing the government’s motion to dismiss its First Amendment lawsuit against President Trump. PEN America brought the lawsuit in light of the President’s ongoing pattern of seeking to deny access to reporters and to retaliate against news outlets whose coverage he dislikes. Protect Democracy represents PEN America in the case, along with the Yale Law School Media Freedom of Information and Access Clinic and the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP. The lawsuit asks the Court to enforce the Constitution’s First Amendment protections guaranteed to members of the press now targeted by the President and to enjoin the President from misusing government power to punish and deter news coverage he considers unfavorable.
Also today, a group of scholars will file an amicus brief in the case explaining how the President’s actions toward the media mirror steps taken by autocrats in Hungary, Russia, Poland, and Turkey to stymie critical press coverage and reign in the free press. The brief lays out these steps, which include 1) planting “seeds of distrust” of the media, 2) controlling the content of media coverage, 3) harming the business interests of media organizations, and 4) intimidating, threatening, and punishing media organizations and members. Viktor Orban, Prime Minister of Hungary and one of the autocrats discussed in the brief, is scheduled to visit President Trump at the White House on Monday, May 13.
Kristy Parker, Protect Democracy Counsel:
“The administration’s mass revocation of press credentials this week demonstrates how critical it is for the Court to hear our case. President Trump’s attempts to stifle speech he doesn’t like are becoming more acute. If the President can use the power of the federal government to hamper unfavorable coverage of himself, then press freedom in the United States is in serious danger. Our lawsuit demonstrates that the President’s threats and animus toward members of the media is closely linked to his direction of adverse government action against them and their organizations. The Constitution specifically provides protection for the press because it is essential to the health of our democracy. The law is on our side, and it’s imperative for the Court to provide a check on the President’s attempts to chill speech.”
Suzanne Nossel, PEN America Chief Executive Officer:
“This administration’s attempts to stifle the free press are transparent, insidious, and unconstitutional. The mass revocation of press credentials is just the latest act in a long pattern of behavior designed to prevent or punish coverage that could be viewed as critical of the President. But the President is not a king. He is, and must remain, subject to questioning and criticism. Journalists play a crucial role in keeping the public informed, holding those in power accountable, and maintaining a healthy democracy. That’s why we brought this case—so journalists don’t have to operate in an environment where they fear government retribution for doing their jobs. We believe the Court will recognize the chilling effect of the President’s actions and take action to protect the free and independent press.”
Protect Democracy, the Yale Law School Media Freedom of Information and Access Clinic, and the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP are representing PEN America, a leading organization of writers and literary professionals, in a lawsuit against President Trump for violating the First Amendment rights of journalists through his threats to use—and actual use of—government power to punish the speech of his media critics.
President Trump is free to criticize journalists and media organizations, but he cannot abuse government power to retaliate against the press. As the lawsuit lays out, the President has in at least five situations used or threatened to use the regulatory and enforcement powers of government to punish the speech of journalists, including by threatening to revoke broadcast licenses, directing DOJ enforcement actions against media companies, and revoking security clearances of officials who publicly criticize him. These actions violate the First Amendment’s protection of the free press, and this conduct has created an ongoing credible threat of government retaliation that PEN’s members must surmount when doing their work as journalists and writers.
We have asked the Court for a declaratory judgment—a ruling that the president’s use of government power to punish speech violates the First Amendment—and to enter an injunction to stop the President from directing government agencies to retaliate against journalists for their speech.
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org
CONTACT: Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Manager: [email protected]